Parents’ Dilemma: How Much Technology for Kids?

I begin with the statement that, like teaching, there is no one best way of parenting. Good parenting comes in all sizes and colors.

Saying that, however, does little to help those parents who, surrounded by mind-altering noise hyping new technologies, face the persistent dilemma of deciding which high-tech devices they should allow their infants and toddlers to use. The value of having children handle devices and become with-it technologically competes with the value of active children playing and working with others and not passively watching television or playing the same game hours on end on gadgets. Values conflict. What should parents decide?

Parents have three choices in managing the dilemma of how much screen time and high-tech devices should their children use at home and at school. Doing nothing and going with the flow–acceding to their son’s or daughter’s request for the newest device is what many parents do. A second option is to make deliberate choices based on parents’ values–rules for television watching, ditto for cell phones and Wii. A third choice is to decide on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, combinations of these choices get made as children get older and parents experience untoward events (e.g., unemployment, divorce, illness, death).

Parents of infants, toddlers, and young children are faced with choices daily because of the array of screens that their children have access to as no other generation has had. Although I know this from reading articles and watching younger colleagues and friends raise their children, nonetheless, the facts of how much screen time young children spend with computers, television, and games still surprised me. From a 2005 study of 0-6 year year-olds:

“On a typical day, 75% of children watched television and 32% watched videos/DVDs, for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, on average. New media are also making inroads with young children: 27% of 5- to 6-year-olds used a computer (for 50 minutes on average) on a typical day. Many young children (one fifth of 0- to 2-year-olds and more than one third of 3- to 6-year-olds) also have a television in their bedroom.”

In 2011, a survey of parents reported that:

“[K]ids ages 2  through 5 watch more TV (including DVD and videos) than kids ages 6 through 11 do. And between the ages of 7 and 9, children shift to more interactive pastimes: 70% of 8-year-olds play video games, whereas less than half of 6-year-olds do…. Computers are accessed even more frequently with 85 % of parents reporting that their children use them. But the oldest medium we inquired about remains the favorite: 95% of 3-to-10 year-olds watch TV.”

What do professionals recommend? Like parents, professional opinion can be arrayed along a continuum. At one end are those teachers (e.g., Waldorf educators) and scholars (e.g.,  Jane Healy) who advocate little exposure for infants, toddlers, and young children. The Alliance for Childhood, a group of educators and parents, for example, publishedFool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood” in 1999 (see researcher Doug Clements estimate of that publication– critique Fool’s Gold).

At the other end of the professional continuum on technology are those schools who have yet to meet a high tech device they didn’t adore. They buy up iPads as if it were Halloween candy. And in the middle are most early childhood educators who try to figure out what is best for infants, toddlers, and young children in a world where keeping up with changes in high-tech communication and information is nearly impossible.

Take the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC)–a group of educators and parents committed to the intellectual, psychological, emotional, physical, and creative growth of children. They published a position statement on technology in 1996. In 2010, a draft of a new position paper was published for comment (4-29-2011-1 ). They, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, urge parents (and teachers) to be thoughtful and deliberate in the use of high-tech devices that are matched to the age and intellectual and psychological development of the child.

So where are we in helping parents with young children and early childhood professionals decide what to do in the midst of new technologies aimed at young children as toys and learning machines much less school professionals buying iPads for preschoolers?  Spread across a continuum are groups and individuals who question any use for toddlers to those who urge thoughtful, case-by-case use, to those who queue up to buy the latest learning gadget.

The good news is that there are choices that parents can make if they know what they value and calculate the tradeoffs in making decisions–actually negotiating compromises among themselves and with their toddlers–on any one high-tech device; the bad news is that conflict-filled dilemmas in raising children have no solutions; they can be only managed again and again.



Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

13 responses to “Parents’ Dilemma: How Much Technology for Kids?

  1. Pingback: 10 Reasons to Love a Kid « Cite Simon

  2. My daughter was born in 1984 the same year as the first Mac. As soon as she could hold a mouse she was on my lap learning and having fun. She had her own computer in her room before she started school but never had her own TV. When she showed an interest and talent in art we supported her as much as we could. She is now a professional animator and the day Steve Jobs died she thanked me for all I did to give her access to technology and support her interests. Bottom line, if kids are interested in something, support the interest.

  3. My own work Larry has put me firmly on the cautious side, especially when it comes to the youngest kids. Baroness Susan Greenfield, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists and (until recently) director of the Royal Institution is the most articulate speaker and researcher I know on this issue. I’ve worked with Susan, and research her department did into online gambling would make any parent anxious about screen use by children.

    This is a brief extract from a Guardian newspaper article about her concerns. “If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder.
    It might be helpful to investigate whether the near total submersion of our culture in screen technologies over the last decade might in some way be linked to the threefold increase over this period in prescriptions for methylphenidate, the drug prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

    The Full article is here.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for the piece from the Guardian on Baroness Greenfield’s work on social media and its impact on youth. For Facebook, I believe they have an age threshold of 13 to enroll but, as you would guess, many pre-teens are online with it and other social media sites. As for infants, toddlers, and young children I do wonder whether professionals in UK have taken similar or different stands as pediatricians and early childhood educators.

  4. Pingback: Parents' Dilemma: How Much Technology for Kids? | Larry Cuban … | Technology News

  5. Pingback: Parents’ Dilemma: How Much Technology for Kids? | Classroom Technology That Really Teaches |

  6. Joe, I am afraid you are giving Susan Greenfield’s work much more credit than it deserves…..many of us engaged in this issue on this side of the pond treat her research with a great deal of caution. Her ability to form conclusions from very little evidence may support your well known techno-sceptic view but will not stand up to detailed scrutiny.

    Her time at the Royal Institution is of course a highly controversial issue!

  7. Bob is correct, and rather polite too (which is the English way). The truth is that Baroness Greenfield continually makes pronouncements on the effect of technology on children’s brains for which she can produce no scientific evidence whatsoever, she also uses language which is distinctly unscientific such as ‘blow your mind’
    Given that scientists should be ‘doing’ science, which means conducting experiments and then having them peer reviewed so their veracity can be checked, I am afraid Baroness Greenfield is probably not a scientist in any meaningful sense of the term. She definitely is a very media savvy scaremonger though, and that probably pays better…

  8. As far as computers go and I think as you are aware of, it seems that majority of 8 year olds like to play videogames. For the 3rd grade class that I student teach in, we take advantage of that interest by stocking up on math and geography games on the computers. At least the 3rd graders are doing something educational when they’re on the computers in the classroom. Parents could do something similar, but limits still need to be set.

  9. Pingback: Technology For Kids | Information Technology

  10. Thanks for your thoughtful reflections about children using high-tech devices, Larry. We’d like to correct your statement about the Alliance for Childhood, though. It’s not a Waldorf organization, nor is it largely composed of Waldorf teachers and parents. Its partners and allies represent many approaches to education, including a great many public school parents and school leaders. We also work closely with health professionals, recreation and museum staff, and university researchers.

    Health experts in particular are concerned about overuse of media and electronic technology in childhood. We strongly recommend that parents establish limits while children are young. Today’s children and teens average 7.5 hours per day outside of school looking at screens. This means they spend less time than earlier generations in face-to-face relationships, outdoors in nature, and developing creativity through play and the arts.

    Does it make sense to habituate infants and toddlers to screens while so many other essential human capacities remain undeveloped? First things first: strong human relationships, first-hand knowledge and love of nature, imaginative social play, and artistic expression. Advanced technology can wait. There’s no evidence that delaying exposure to high-tech tools has any negative effects, but many indicators that a heavily wired childhood poses risks.

    Joan Almon and Edward Miller, Alliance for Childhood

  11. Pingback: Parents’ Dilemma: How Much Technology for Kids? | Educ 230 Midterm Project |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s