The Early Childhood Technology Debate: The View from My Side of the Fence
Have you ever noticed that it’s possible to debate an issue, presenting all of your best arguments and the research to back them up, and still not change anybody’s mind? If you participate in social media, I’m sure you’ve witnessed this phenomenon as it relates to today’s political climate. But I also see it regarding issues concerning early childhood. Specifically, I’m referring here to early childhood and technology.
I’ve been contributing my thoughts to an online discussion through NAEYC (available only to members), and I’m frustrated. Not because there’s no one there who agrees with me; rather, because those who agree with me were already seeing things my way. Those on the other side of the fence remain firmly entrenched where they are.
Of course, in addition to today’s political climate, technology in early childhood classrooms is one topic sure to create a ruckus. At one end of the spectrum are those who firmly believe that if technology is going to be part of children’s lives (and it most certainly is), they must begin exploring and experiencing it in their earliest years. At the other end of the spectrum are those who firmly believe that children will have the rest of their lives to trade the real world for a virtual one.
Me? I’m in the latter camp.
Now, with many topics, I would be among those who call for balance. But I just can’t make myself go there with this one. Which means, of course, that all the arguments I’m reading on the discussion board aren’t doing anything to make me jump the fence either!
Among those who are calling for balance is NAEYC, which advocates for “both/and,” as opposed to “either/or,” thinking. They recommend that early childhood educators use technology in meaningful, developmentally appropriate ways. Their executive director, Rhian Evans Allvin, wrote in 2014 of children “in an American city visiting with their peers in a remote Eastern European community through Skype,” or a teacher “integrating a smart board with touchscreen technology in a group lesson about democratic society.” She cited these examples as representing “the integration of technology in ways designed not to replace human interaction but to enhance it.”
It sounds great, actually – if done sparingly. But the cynic in me wants to jump up and down and remind everyone that few people are familiar enough with developmentally appropriate practice in general, let alone where technology is concerned. To counter that argument, some participating in the online discussion are asking for more professional development around technology.
But professional development isn’t going to change the fact that as the research catches up with the times, what it’s finding is quite frightening. Vision problems, language delays, lack of fine-motor control, depression, and aggression are just some of what’s being reported as resulting from too much screen time!
Why take the chance? As I’ve argued, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had no access to tech when they were children – because it didn’t exist. And we all know they did quite well with it in their later years (an understatement if ever there was one). What I believe they had were childhood experiences that led to strong STEM and problem-solving skills and active imaginations! Of course, someone in the online discussion argued that they may have been able to create much more if they’d had access to tech as children. But who’s to say they wouldn’t have been able to create much less, as a result of the depression or aggression, for example, that might have resulted from all the screen time they were likely to engage in?
Jane Healy, author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds – and What We Can Do About It, insists there’s no need for children to be exposed to computers before the age of seven. And I agree. It makes perfect sense when we stop to consider what we know about child and brain development and how children learn: through all their senses, through movement, and through social interaction. All of that is limited when children spend time with their screens.
I realize that among tech-loving early childhood professionals my stance isn’t very popular. But I have to ask myself: Is there danger to children from too little use of technology? I can’t see how there could be. For those who argue that children will fall behind if they don’t begin learning now, I argue that tech is changing so fast, most of what they’re learning (how to handle a mouse, for example) will be obsolete in a few short years.
The next question is: Is there danger to children from too much technology? You betcha. And since balance in this country is as rare as Sasquatch sightings, I’m duty-bound to lean toward the no-tech end of the spectrum. So, I’ll keep debating (although it’s one of my least favorite things to do), hoping that maybe some of the people sitting on the fence will jump on over to my side.
Maybe the operative word is “too much” screen time and the context in which it happens. The fact that children are left unsupervised to watch the screen thus watching highly unsuitable material, that the screen has replaced family time, that children are not spending enough time outdoors have all contributed to language delay, depression and aggression, lack of fine motor skill, etc.
Whenever we have an emotional involvement with our view, it becomes hard to change it and we cling to it whatever facts or figures we are presented with. When we are emotionally involved we feel it as an attack on us, not an attack on a theory or an objective outlook.
Thank you for weighing in, Jutta. I suspect that a great number of kids are getting “too much” screen time at home. That’s why I advocate for no screen time in early childhood centers. Let that be a place they can be children living in the real world!
I really appreciate your theory as to why it becomes difficult to change our minds once we taken a position on an issue. It makes a lot of sense! Although I admit to being overly sensitive at times and taking a great many things personally, I can honestly say that in this instance it’s all about the children! I am sincerely frightened by the potential for harm here.
Well, you will divide them on this one I’m sure! I’m in the middle here, used with purpose but again who will moderate?
Actually, I’ve been quite amazed by the support I’m receiving on Facebook! Very encouraging. I had been thinking I was fighting a losing battle.
Rae, I’m with you and I’ve posted this on our TBCWE.org web site. Looking forward to sharing more of your knowledge with us our conferences this summer.
Thank you, Mary Ann! I appreciate the support — and you sharing the message! I’ll try to create only a little ruckus during the summer conferences! 🙂
Hi Rae, people are missing the point completely. It is not about whether the technology program is beneficial or not. Its about the damage that is being done by having a screen in front of them. There is overwhelming research surrounding the exposure of the screen- that it should not be about whether this program or that program is more beneficial.
You only have to look at the exponentially rising rate of children in England, aged between 3 & 4 who are addicted to screen time and are seeing clinical psychologists is astounding (approx 16k), the damage to the frontal lobe, the lack of fundamental movement progressions needed to develop certain parts of the learning brain, the increasing rise of mental health/suicides in young adults, the rising rates of ADHD that has American & Canadian Pediatrics society very concerned, the increase in sedentary time due to sitting, rising obesity due to sitting and watching as opposed to out there and doing… increase in ocular lock and so on and so on. No matter how any one frames it up- if the child is under 5 years of age-its just an easy baby sitting option and is not needed.
Yes, yes, yes, Robyn! It is absolutely terrifying! And it’s only going to get worse unless we DO something about it.
Your stat about 3- and 4-year-olds in England who are already addicted is horrifying. Do you have a study you can send me? I’m planning to write a book for parents and can use all the information I can get my hands on. If you’ve got anything you think I can use, I’d very much appreciate it if you would send it to me at email@example.com.
Thanks for contributing to this conversation!