Children can’t hold pencils thanks to technology, but is that as bad as it sounds?

Children are finding it hard to hold pens and pencils and it appears that Big Bad Wolf technology is to blame.

According to senior paediatric doctors, an overuse of touchscreen devices like phones and tablets are preventing children’s finger muscles from developing sufficiently enough for them to hold a pencil correctly.

Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust believes that “children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had ten years ago.”

“Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills. To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills.”


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Payne believes that this lacking pencil dexterity is due to kids being given iPads to watch, poke and prod at instead of, say, building blocks or creative crafts involving paper and glue. “It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes,” she explains. “Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil.”

One six-year-old child named Patrick has been having weekly sessions with an occupational therapist to help him develop the correct technique for holding a pencil in the “correct” tripod grip.

Depressingly, his mother, Laura, seems to blame herself for his development, telling The Guardian “in retrospect, I see that I gave Patrick technology to play with, to the virtual exclusion of the more traditional toys. When he got to school, they contacted me with their concerns: he was gripping his pencil like cavemen held sticks. He just couldn’t hold it in any other way and so couldn’t learn to write because he couldn’t move the pencil with any accuracy.”

If you’re now looking down at your hands or scouting around for a pen to hold to test how well you hold it, you’re probably also holding it incorrectly.

Therapy is helping Patrick but he’s not an isolated case. According to Karin Bishop, assistant director at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, it’s a growing problem that really should be addressed. “It is undeniable that technology has changed the world where our children are growing up.

“While there are many positive aspects to the use of technology, there is growing evidence on the impact of more sedentary lifestyle and increasing virtual social interaction, as more children spend more time indoors online and less time physically participating in active occupations.”

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Is this just a sign of the times?

However, entertain me if you will dear reader, is this really a problem that’s simply down to the role of technology?


Doing a very unscientific straw poll around the team, it’s quite clear that almost none of us know how to hold a pen or pencil correctly either. Perhaps at one point in time we did, but now typing skills are arguably more essential to day-to-day life than anything to do with handwriting.

As with many societal changes, it seems that people are all too quick to point the (weak) finger at technology as the cause of a problem. In fact, it’s likely more down to the changing nature of parenting. It’s too easy to pass your child off to technology instead of finding more engaging ways to interact with them. Therefore, the issue is around raising awareness and improving parent’s understanding of how to use technology properly with your child. It’s arguable that if you gave your kid an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil – or a Microsoft Surface Pro with Surface Pen, in the interests if impartiality – they’d still develop the skills to hold a pencil “correctly”.

It’s undeniable that technology is certainly having an impact upon human development, but perhaps it’s simply just a sign of the times.

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