There has been a lot of concern about young children and their use of technological devices, especially in their early development. Many experts discuss the negative effects of time spent by staring at screens as well as the looming impact of children leading an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Several books appeared discussing the influence of sitting with devices in comparison with an active and sporty lifestyle.
After years of a generally negative mood surrounding this subject, more detailed studies have started to emerge that show the way devices are being used have a bigger impact on children’s development than just screen time exposure.
Life without technology? Unlikely
Technology and interactive media are here to stay. Young children live in a world full of interactive media. They are growing up at ease with digital devices that are rapidly becoming tools for all aspects of life. Technological tools for communication, collaboration, social networking, and user-generated content have transformed our culture. The shift to new media literacies and the need for digital literacy will continue to shape the world in which young children are developing and learning. Young children are excessively exposed to electronic media in their lives; they are spending more and more hours per week in front of and engaged with screens of all kinds, including TVs, smartphones, PCs, tablets, game consoles, and handheld game devices. Multi-touch screens and motion-activated devices have blurred the distinction between the technology, the content, and the user experience.
There are concerns about whether young children should have access to technology and screen media in early childhood programs. Several professional and public health organizations (together with American Academy of Pediatrics – AAP) and child advocacy groups concerned with child development and health issues such as obesity have recommended that passive, non-interactive technology and screen media should not be used in early childhood programs and that there should be absolutely no screen time for infants and toddlers.
All screens created equal?
The proliferation of digital devices with screens means that the precise meaning of “screen time” is elusive and no longer just a matter of how long a young child watches TV, videos, or DVDs. Time spent in front of a TV screen is just one aspect of how screen time needs to be understood and measured. Children and adults now have access to an ever-expanding selection of screens on computers, tablets, smartphones, handheld gaming devices, portable video players, digital cameras, video recorders, and more. Screen time is the total amount of time spent in front of any and all of these screens. As digital technology has expanded in scope beyond linear, non-interactive media to include interactive options, it is evident that each unique screen demands its own criteria for the best usage.
What do experts think?
As was mentioned in one interview with Dr. Brown, “There’s consumption, and there’s creation, and there’s communication. So if you’re looking at children under 2, there’s a big difference between endless hours of watching cartoons on YouTube and video chatting with Grandma.” (Brown et al, 2015).
A 2013 survey by Common Sense Media, in San Francisco, found that 38% of children under the age of 2 had used a mobile device. “Some of the traditional recommendations, like discouraging all screen time before age 2, just don’t fit with reality circa 2015-2016,” said James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, which rates all media content for parents.
In May, the AAP convened a symposium with top researchers and experts in the field of media use and children. Among the studies presented was research showing that when English-speaking 9-month-olds watched a Mandarin teacher on a television screen, there was no benefit, as measured by change in brain activity. When the teacher was in the room, there was a lot of change.
Other studies have highlighted the value of back-and-forth communication for children’s learning. Children between the ages of 24 months and 30 months learned as many new words from a teacher via videochat as they did with live presentation. “The more screen media mimics live interactions, the more educationally valuable it may be,” said Dr. Brown (Wall Street Journal, 2015).
Screen vs paper
Is reading a book with a child on an iPad any different from reading a physical book? Dr. Christakis asks. “The real value of reading to a child isn’t anything magical about the book… The book is providing a platform for a parent and child to interact. The real question is: Does the device promote that kind of back and forth or not? It certainly could. It’s all about how it’s used and how it’s structured.” And as a child develops and begins to engage in independent play, Dr. Christakis adds, is an iPad worse than other toys? The studies haven’t been done, he said, but he suspects it isn’t any worse (Christakis, 2014).
However, there is an interesting outcome about using TV as a background source. Background TV actually disrupts the children’s activities—their play, the parent-child interactions, and it’s related to poorer executive functioning. When it is on, play is not as complex, and that’s a really important part of how a child develops. Screen time can be enhanced by making it interactive. Talk to your child about what they’re watching; expand on it by putting a physical object that they are viewing into their hands. It is advised parents not use screens as a way to calm a child, which can be seen increasingly in a private practice of clinical social workers and pediatricians.
How we see it at Lipa Learning
Since Lipa is a digital company, this issue of balancing digital activities with real-world activities for children is crucial for us. Knowing that, we are offering high-quality digital learning with apps and interactive books, but also a range of physical activities like live games, crafts, experiments, exercises, puzzles, and more. With all these great choices, kids will be encouraged to explore the real world and have meaningful interactions with friends and family. We’re also always on the lookout – for trends in childhood development, scientific & technological breakthroughs, and global conferences that inspire our ideas and connections.
Through recent years there has been an important change in perception of using digital devices with preschool children. With more studies revealing what the benefits of technology could actually be, we know now that it comes down to quality of content and type of usage. To be a responsible parent or teacher, we have to carefully examine which devices fit our children’s early years’ development best, and which real-world activities we should combine with them for maximum overall benefit.
How to use technology appropriately?
1) If you do an activity with a device, combine this time with some physical movement, such as acting out the situations of the digital game.
2) Try to more frequently use the kind of devices that allow better interaction for the child (such as a touch screen over a static television).
3) Pay attention to your child and give them your time when playing together on a device. Ask your child some additional questions, test their comprehension, and train their critical thinking skills.
4) When children are experienced with learning a second language, set the second language on their favorite app and let them play with the additional challenge. Then ask questions for comprehension.
5) Keeping in mind the important process of eye accommodation development in early years, it is recommended to combine screen activity with long distance perceptions. For example, when the children are watching their favorite tale or playing their favorite app, let them observe something that is long distance from them (ideally 10 or more meters away) and encourage them to explain to you the details they see. Eye muscles are in an important stage of development before the age of 6. When it’s trained appropriately, we can help not just to improve children’s vision itself, but prevent further learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
Dimitri A. Christakis, JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(5):399-400. Interactive Media Use at Younger Than the Age of 2 Years Time to Rethink the American Academy of Pediatrics Guideline?
Ari Brown, Donald L. Shifrin, and David L. Hill, 2015, AAP News: Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use.