Many children these days have access to a multitude of digital items from a very tender age. They also rapidly pick up skills in these items’ use. Devices commonly accessed by young children include large and small screens, keyboards and control functions for mobile phones, laptops, tablets, televisions and desktop computers.
According to a recent study of Children’s Media Use in America in 2013, the use of digital devices amongst under two year olds had increased from 10% to 38% in just the last two years.
Experts point out that many children are growing up in a media-saturated environment and that in many parts of the world we are approaching universal access to media technology. Children can find digital media devices at home, school and even at nursery.
It is commonly believed amongst parents, experts and carers that digital media has a significant impact on children’s environments, development and behaviour. There’s certainly a relationship to the learning process, as well as to their overall experience of being in the world, and likely an effect on how they build and learn about relationships. Still, there is a huge debate about how exactly children are affected by digital media.
A huge host of serious issues intersect around the topic, ranging from those related to body image, to concerns about overuse, perceptions of violence, development of obesity and sleep disorders, attention difficulties, and worries about online predators are amongst those most discussed in the media and by experts.
The potential negative outcomes of these devices’ use by small children can be alarming. Therefore the core question is how can we help shape this impact and keep it positive?
One first step is to be aware of what digital platforms children are using and how they are engaging with these. This will vary significantly according to age, gender and socioeconomic status. However the clear tendency is a trending increase in their use and in overall time spent by children using digital devices.
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends avoiding passive screen time for under twos. Limiting screen time and offering creative and stimulating activities for children can sometimes be a challenge for parents and carers.
It has been well demostrated that passive screen time even with products aimed at mental stimulation, in the case of small children, toddlers and babies does not in fact help children to learn and can even delay their development. Young children learn best through interaction.
In case of opting for some passive screen time it is advisable to carefully review the parental guidelines available for media such as films, games and cartoons as well as watching the content with the child in order to guide their experience.
It is also necessary to be aware of the emergent potential negative uses of digital devices which can become of concern as children get older. It is important to try to maximise our opportunities to make sure children are also aware of these issues by talking about them openly.
Older children and teenagers are frequently exposed to a wide range of digital media and need to be aware of their potential overuse, the risks of addiction to video games and social media, and the dangers related to sharing their personal information online.
Children of the digital age have a lot to explore out there in the digital world. The main challenge for parents and carers is to guide this process in such a rapidly changing digital environment.
Vandewater EA, Rideout VJ, Wartella EA, Huang X, Lee JH, & Shim MS (2007). Digital childhood: electronic media and technology use among infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Pediatrics, 119 (5) PMID: 17473074
A Common Sense Research Study (2013) Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013, October 28.