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, published “Fool’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.