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.