The proliferation of digital tools presents new challenges for today’s educators and parents of young children. Parents want their children to have healthy technology habits. I want the same for my grandchildren. But what does that mean? How do we know what’s best? Where do I go for help?

It turns out that one writer for the New York Times was surprised to discover that the late Steve Jobs and other tech CEOs didn’t allow their own kids unlimited access to 21st century cool tools. Sound strange? Not at all, because they are responsible parents who want their children to thrive in those crucial early years.

Developing minds need conversation and interaction with those around them. Established routines, reasonable rules, and clear boundaries help children build a sense of self and community. Sure, I want my grandkids to experience the excitement of digital learning, but only if it’s right-sized and developmentally appropriate. I also know that there’s no substitute for shared family time and dialogue at the dinner table.

Recent reports and survey data indicate that families and teachers hold positive views about the potential for digital media to support learning. Unfortunately, educators and parents may be inadequately prepared to make smart choices about screen time. Are they well-informed about the benefits and risks of exposing little kids to various media platforms? Do they understand the implications of overexposure or unmonitored access? Are they aware of guidelines and standards of quality, which are described in Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years?

According to one study, Learning at Home: Families’ Educational Media Use in America, 34% of 2 to 10-year-old children are engaged with educational media daily, and 80% are engaged at least once a week. On average, this age group spends about two hours per day with onscreen media. In the life of a young child, that’s a huge chunk of time. Parents and educators should apply common sense to this digital dilemma. Here are some basic ground rules for healthy technology habits:

  • Seek trusted recommendations and preview educational media before sharing with a child
  • Look for interactive media with an appropriate level of challenge for a child’s abilities
  • Limit young children’s screen time to bite-sized chunks (10 – 15 minutes)
  • Select digital experiences that provide opportunities to enrich relevant content in appropriate contexts

Of course, always remember that media engagement should not replace creative play, physical activity, hands-on experiences, and social interaction, which are essential for optimal growth and development. Without doubt, stimulating multimedia will influence my grandchildren’s learning adventures, but I’ll be keeping track of the minutes and making sure that any screen time is worthwhile in terms of educational value.


Image Credit Peter Dedina / CC by 2.0

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