Technology is transforming our world in ways we never could have possibly imagined generations ago. In so many ways, it has enabled exceptional advances. Our digital migration has given rise to a globalization of new ideas, innovation and, in many cases, productive knowledge and growth.
But when it comes to our children, it is rapidly becoming clear that we must protect them from too much of a good thing. We must exercise moderation and ensure technology is used to improve learning, rather than used just because it exists.
I was relieved in recent weeks to read a few articles that underscore this point of view. First was a Washington Post piece commenting on VINCI Education’s “groundbreaking virtual school” for toddlers and preschoolers. The company offers parents a subscription program of weekly lesson plans, which use online games to introduce learning concepts to children as young as 18 months. At first glance, it seems like an interesting concept and an efficient way to facilitate learning. But, there is also a downside, as the author points out.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity recommend that children under the age of 2 have no screen time. Studies have shown that passive learning, like watching a screen, does not stimulate the brain the same way that adult/child interactive learning does. Toddlers learn to think through hands-on activities, such as puzzles, art, music and interactive story time with caregivers who stimulate vocabulary development by talking with them and asking questions while they play, sing and learn. We call this method of interactive learning “serve and return.”
National Public Radio also aired a segment on Feb. 12 interviewing Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. He warned that parents may be “over-charging” their infants’ brains with too much screen time too early.
Dr. Christakis says that the typical preschool child in America watches 4 ½ hours of television a day. Considering that children that age are typically awake for 12 hours, this translates into 20-30 percent of their time in front of a screen rather than interacting with adults and their environment. But researchers have found that activities like building with blocks, drawing or reading – all real-time, hands-on activities – do not have the same negative effect on the brain.
Just a few days later, I read about The Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report in Parenting Magazine. This study indicates that while 83 percent of all children love being read to, this activity drops off dramatically after age 6 when children have begun to read on their own. While parents in the same study said they want their children to prefer books over video games, they must make more of an effort to curb screen time and encourage reading starting at an early age.
Technology definitely brings efficiencies, but it’s also creating obstacles to family interaction and quality early childhood development. As adults, we must remain informed and watchful, so that technology is a help, not a hindrance, to nurturing healthy outcomes for our children. Think about the experiences you enjoyed as a child – playing with building blocks, singing nursery songs and rhymes, coloring, building puzzles and reading books – these types of hands-on activities foster brain development and quality early learning. They will help your child thrive and build a strong foundation for the future. I encourage you to ensure a balance between the use of technology for learning and more active early learning activities by engaging your whole family in a fun, interactive game night – no screens allowed!