Kids And Tech: When, Where, and How?
Kids and tech
It’s a well-known, ongoing discussion: when, how, and where technology could and should be introduced in a young child’s life. It’s a fine balance, like playing with fire. Give your child an iPad too early, and you’ll have a square-eyed child struggling with social and human interactions. Give it too late, and your child will be left behind, chasing the technological progressions forever. I look at it a bit like this; tech is like falling off a horse - there is a snowball’s chance in hell that you’ll catch up with it running at full speed up the hill.
Being properly familiar with today’s technology is essential in any child’s life (and adults for that matter). In a techy World like ours, falling behind is not ideal at all. But when is the right time? And how do you properly introduce a child to technology, in a healthy and balanced way?
I read this really good research article by Dr Ann Epstein, Senior Director of Curriculum Development at HighScope, to dig deeper into this epic dilemma. She starts off the article “Using Technology Appropriately in the Preschool Classroom” airing the problem:
"As technology for young children proliferates, educators and parents wonder if, when, and how to use it appropriately to support early development [...] technology and interactive media are here to stay, and if appropriately used, with the support of knowledgeable adults, they can be harnessed for early learning and development" - DR. ANN EPSTEIN
Although most research papers on the topic don't give an exact time and age for a child to be introduced to tech, here is what’s known about young children’s use of digital technology (Epstein):
- Kids spend A LOT of time interacting with technology and media
Children spend an average of seven hours a day using screen media(!). These numbers also include one to two hours a day for those under age two. Ninety percent of parents report that children below age two watch some form of electronic media every day.
Or like this other research article by McDonough from 2009. The article, named TV viewing among kids at an eight-year high, reports that children aged two to five years spend more than 32 hours a week in front of a screen. That means that besides sleeping, kids sit in front of a screen more than any other activity in their life!
- Kids use technology for the wrong reasons and purposes
Kids are often handed tablets and smartphones as a “nanny” - a mean to regain control and to get some peace and quiet. Most parents can probably relate to this.
Content is key, also for children’s media use. A lot of the programs and apps that children interact with on the tablet or smart phones is of poor educational quality and basically pure eye-candy. The motions and movements are repetitive and the learning outcomes are minimal.
How does media use in the early years affect our children?
There is no doubt by now that excessive and poor quality media use on children is bad for them. In younger children, media exposure has been linked to language delays, short attention spans and poor social skills. For older kids in preschool and elementary, media use is associated with physical, behavioural, and mental health problems, including obesity, poor sleep habits, aggressive behaviour, and even attention disorders!
However, active and appropriate use of technology and media can positively support learning in children too - improving social skills, language skills, and even school readiness. A moderate and balanced use of high-quality media may not only improve a child's fine and gross motor skills like dexterity and eye-hand coordination but also improve a child’s language and problem-solving skills, as well as produce self-esteem and motivation.
When, where, and how?
It seems like youth and tech is a double-edged sword and a field with many grey areas. It’s how and how long children use the tech, and what sort of media they are offered that truly matters.
Even though research papers coming out can’t provide a specific age nor content to introduce tech to kids, one ground rule is to wait with screen time and media exposure until children are two years old. After that, choose apps and content wisely, restrict the playtime, and actively involve yourself in the child’s play. We at DXTR recommend games and apps like CodaGame by Codarica (now a part of Filimundus), Osmo by Tangible play, ABC Ninjas, and most apps from PlayKids. Enjoy the play!