Toddlers and Technology at Home and Preschool (Part 1)

Last year, of the 85,000 men who had prostate surgery, 73,000 (86 percent) had it done robotically. The growth of this new technology has been astounding yet evidence is lacking that surgery done robotically on the prostate can control cancer or has the same success rate as a traditional surgeon making small incisions in the abdomen and using hand tools to cut out the organ. Same old story: a new technology spreads far faster than evidence for its benefits.

That is certainly the story of parents buying computers for their children and school boards doing the same for teachers and students. This post and the next one will deal with the swift increase of computers and other media in the past decade for infants and toddlers at home and in preschool.

A 2003 study found that 21 percent of infants and toddlers (six months to two years), 58 percent of three- and four- year olds, and 77 percent of five- and six year-olds used computers at home. The average age when children used a mouse to point and click was three and a half. In a 2007 study nearly a third of three-to-six year-olds had a television set in their bedrooms and by age six, nearly three of ten children used a computer 50 minutes a day. Even as young children increased their time on computers and video games, watching television still dominated a child’s day. Over half of infants and toddlers could turn on the television set, rising to 80-plus percent for three and four year olds. Many of the latter could insert a DVD by themselves. In short, middle-class children regardless of ethnicity or race grow up in a “media-saturated environment.” No surprise here.

What reasons do parents offer for giving four year-olds access to the family computer nearly an hour a day and buying television sets for their babies’ bedrooms? Three of four parents say that young children using computers and watching television will help them learn to read, absorb information, and do better in school. As for bedroom television sets, parents told interviewers that other family members could then watch their favorite programs. And, of equal importance, bedroom sets kept the young children occupied.

What about restrictions on preschoolers’ use of media at home? Since parents vary in their ideologies of child-rearing from progressive to traditional, some parents are deeply concerned about too much exposure and set restrictions on screen time for different media. Others do not.

Going beyond published studies, I contacted parents of preschoolers that I knew to find out some child-rearing practices in “media-saturated” homes.

Mom: “My kids are 4 and 2 now. Neither of them uses the computer at all. They don’t do any video games either. They occasionally watch some (about 20 minutes) TV in the morning, depending when they wake up; on the days they’re home, they get rest time in the afternoon when they can watch two 20 minute shows (on either Nick Jr or PBS, neither of which has commercials), and then they watch one 20 minute show before bed.”

Dad 1: “I will say that for our two oldest boys (5 and 7) they were only allowed to watch TV, computers, etc (we consider it all the same) on Saturdays when we napped. I don’t think they really started this until they were 4…. Now as they have gotten older they watch some sports with me and if we are home during the afternoon (usually only Saturday or snow days) they get about 1.5 hrs of electronic time. This means their 3 year old brother also does.”

Dad 2: “I love them using computers. The younger they start the better.
It improves hand eye coordination. It increases their desire to learn to read so they can use more advanced applications. They have unlimited access to creative resources for puzzles, word games, matching games, etc. Plus those games are now on the iphone and itouch for the backseat of the car. Its great. We can control the websites and applications they use easily.”

These stories (obviously not a random sample) and statistics make clear that while screen and electronic media are being used daily by very young children in most white and minority middle-class families, parents differ in their views of how much and how frequent technologies should be used. Even with the variation, these numbers and quotes suggest that “these children will be very different from previous generations of children … in their comfort with technology and the extent to which they use all forms of technology in their daily lives.

And what happens when these children go to preschool? Are computers, videos, games, and television for toddlers like robotic surgery where the technology spreads far faster than any evidence for its worth? The answer will be in the next post.



Filed under technology use

8 responses to “Toddlers and Technology at Home and Preschool (Part 1)

  1. But Dr. Cuban, with all due respect, I think there is ample evidence that some technology has tremendous value in education.

    Take blogging as an example. If it had no value in education, then why have you so enthusiastically embraced the practice?

    Make no mistake about it; I don’t want you to stop! However, know that even though I’ve been an educator for 15 years and am in the dissertation phase of completing my doctorate, I had yet to read any of your journal-published papers before reading your ideas online, listening to your interview with Steve Hargadon, and reading the posts you’ve shared here.

    Technology has no proven value in education? I think your actions are evidence enough for me.

    • Mina

      As a (foreign) Phd Student, I read a lot of Professor Cuban’s writings, never ever saw any indication that Prof. Cuban see no value at all in technology in education. I did read writings on consuming technology wisely in schools and in education, looking for evidence before spendings billions, and monitoring the value of implementing technology in education. maybe I am wrong … ?
      As you mentioned , using a blog is good example that he does see value in technology where relevant…

    • Katarina Bouz

      With all due respect Darren Draper, I have to disagree with you. My two year old is a perfect example. I bought my son an Ipad when he was only 25 month old. Within a week he knew he colors, letters, shapes. IPAD was able to teach him stuff that I wasn’t able too in the matter of just one week.

  2. Funny you use the surgery analogy, as playing videogames is a good predictor of how good a surgeon’s skills are, as well as a training activities to boost those skills. Not to mention the ‘brain games’ (video/computer-based or not) that help older folks reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s and so forth.

    “these children will be very different from previous generations of children” – I don’t see evidence that media a cause for this even if it were true. There are other reasons that would seem to have a stronger potential effect – better nutrition and healthcare during pregnancy and early childhood, etc.

    About an earlier point you keep noting – about how school’s primary function is socialization, not learning. Setting aside numerous articles on how the two are not really distinct (Cobb, Sfard, Gee, etc. – learning is identity development), it seems that most of the socialization skills taught in school are directed toward authority – how to be quiet, wait in line, wait your turn, etc. Which is fine, but not everything. We don’t really teach kids how to socialize with one another. How to recognize and deal with bullying, how to deal with the opposite sex, conflict negotiation, etc.

  3. I have read the research. Lots and lots and lots of it. I would just recommend the World Bank’s review of the research and Professor David Buckingham’s superb analysis of the international research, “Beyond Technology.”
    There is no evidence, anywhere, that I am aware of, which links the use of technology to any agreed improvement in children’s educational performance. In fact there is ample to suggest the opposite is true. Just to take one example techno-zealots love to parade. They myth of the multi-tasking teenager. Read the neuroscience (happy to supply it) and you will discover teens’ are phsyiologically incapable of multi-tasking. What they do is simply carry out tasks in parallel, less effectively. I’ve also noticed when listening to them, how often the “gurus” and techno-zealots who have been driving this insane spending on technology in schools, often let slip a profound lack of understanding of what skilled teachers and schools routinely do. When I have then followed this up by trying to find something out about the quality or even the length of their teaching experience, I inevitably discover that although they use the web very liberally to publicise their views and “work,” their teaching experience reamins curiously invisible. Try it yourself and see. It is one thing to use technology to publicise one’s self: but quite another to impose your unprofessional views on schools, teachers and children.

  4. There are both descriptive and normative questions here (and I take these from Larry’s own work going back to the 1980s). Most descriptive research still suggests that the use of technology in schools is generally pedestrian rather than transformative. And despite all the buzz about “digital natives,” there is good reason to believe that’s a myth as well (e.g., Siva Vaidhyanathan’s column at ). I think there’s relatively recent research on young children’s use of search that shows they need to be taught explicitly.

    The normative question is whether the use of technology can and should be more. As is common with deeper change, the stuff that in retrospect will be seen as transformational is slipping in under the radar. Teachers and parents’ use of e-mail seems so pedestrian, but it did not exist 15 years ago as an accessible way of sharing information about students. Teachers today have access to amazing assistance online (including content and lesson plans) that did not exist 10 years ago. And the document camera! That invention is worth far more than it’s given credit for.

    One barrier to such institutionalized trends is the fast turnover (and obsolescence) of specific technologies. E-mail is stable; the latest X is not. A second barrier is the generally incompetent way that school districts purchase technology. You don’t want to know how much my local school district spent on districtwide packages that worked fine for the prototype 5,000-student systems and… uh, never scaled.

  5. There has much talk regarding the use of technology by young children. Most of the talk revolves around how technology dumbs them down.

    I don’t necessarily agree. Today’s technology allows for active participation (games) and this, many studies have shown, can be beneficial for various brain function.

    Just 20 years ago, most children spend their time in front of the TV, a very passive entertainment.

  6. TV is extremely passive!I too believe educational computer games etc are of great value to young developing brains.

    There should be a right balance between technological development and traditional activites when it comes to young minds.

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