Smart boards. Smartphones. Tablets. E-books, and more. The rapid influx of new screen devices poses a special challenge for the early childhood community. A child born today will experience wondrous technologies few of us can even imagine. How do we best support children’s growth, development, and learning in a world radically changed by technology? Arriving at a truly child-centered answer to these questions is complicated by several factors. The new technologies are exciting and often equated with progress. They are evolving so quickly that our grasp of how to make and operate them has rapidly outpaced our understanding of the educational, developmental, ethical, and social ramifications of their design and use.
One big challenge is that it’s hard to find objective information about whether to use any sort of screen technology in early childhood settings. Much of what’s available comes from companies whose profits depend on the sale of these devices or content for them, or from organizations receiving financial support from such companies. There is a dearth of independent research about their impact—and most of what does exist focuses on television. Yet funding for early childhood centers, particularly in low-income communities, is increasingly targeted for digital technology—making its inclusion understandably attractive to cash-strapped programs.
To complicate matters further, the new technologies—such as smartphones and tablets—are marketed as “interactive,” as opposed to “old technologies” such as television and video. But these categories are not always accurate. If new technologies merely offer children a choice between a predetermined set of options, then how much true give-and-take do they really allow?
This guide is designed to help you and—with your support—the families with whom you work make informed decisions about whether, why, how, and when to use screen technologies with young children. It provides an overview of the research on screen time and young children. And it offers guidance for those who want their programs to be screen-free, as well as for those who choose to incorporate technology in their settings.
© 2012 The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Alliance for Childhood