A question we probably ask ourselves on a daily basis is “Are screens and or similar technologies bad for my child, is it good for children learning through technology?”
We’ve moved beyond the debate of mobile electronic devices as being either ‘bad or good’ for young children. Mobile electronic devices are entrenched in society and usage has grown exponentially in the last few years. This can be attributed in large part to the decreasing cost.
Research in 2011 found that 10% of children under 2 owned a mobile device, this jumped to 38% in 2013 and this number has continued to grow (Hilda, K et al., 2015) By the time children enter preschool over 97% will use a mobile electronic device of some kind on a regular basis. (Hilda, K et al., 2015).
Children Learning Through Technology
There is much conflicting evidence and advice when it comes to young children and the use of electronic devices such as smart phones and tablets. Emerging evidence supports that screens can be beneficial to learning as long as they are used in the right way. Looking at the “right way” more practically it can be broken into a few simple considerations.
These are three aspects that come up repeatedly when looking at the research around this question.
Many factors influence the positive and negative effects of electronic devices. What’s really clear though is that the more interactive the experience is the better the outcomes for learning.
Showing your child how to make a bed and then helping them with the task will get the task done faster and they’ll then know (hopefully) how to do it in the future.
Research from the University of Wisconsin found that children between the ages of 2-3 learn more from interacting with a screen than from just passive watching. This suggests that touch screens can hold educational potential for toddlers.
There is new research showing that learn-to-read apps can improve early literacy skills (Radesky et al., 2015). There are a plethora of interactive games and apps, LeapFrog being just one with hundreds of games and apps availble.
When looking at children learning through technology, time is an important factor. This is both the amount of time spent on the device and the time of day that the device is used.
Current government guidelines vary from country to country but on average guidelines recommend that children under the age of 2 should not use any electronic media. For children aged 2-5, no more than 2 hours per day is recommended.
Time of day is another consideration due to the effects that mobile devices have on sleeping patterns of both children and adults. Light is the most important cue in our bodies shifting from awake to sleep cycles. Blue light which is part of the visible light spectrum and which is found everywhere, in sunlight, in digital screens and in fluorescent lighting can be the most disruptive.
There is nothing wrong with blue light for the majority of the day but using these blue light emitting devices before bed can lower your levels of melatonin Our bodies start producing melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone, about 2 hours prior to us falling asleep. Lowering these levels can make it harder to fall asleep and lower the quality of your sleep.
Chang et.al (2014) Did a study on adults that found participants who read on light-emitting devices took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep [the phase when we dream] and had higher alertness before bedtime [than those people who read printed books]. They also discovered that after an eight-hour sleep episode, those who read on the light-emitting device were sleepier and took longer to wake up.
Maybe not such a big issue for adults, but for the little people in our life, sleep is a vital part of growth and development. We all know those days when the little one in our life hasn’t had enough sleep or has skipped a nap! Even without all the evidence we know that it has a negative effect on them and us. So don’t let your child use electronic devices at least 2 hours before your child would be going to bed.
It’s important that as a parent you decide which content is best for your child. While there is no shortage of entertainment or educational material online it varies greatly in terms of quality and appropriateness. A good rule of thumb is to test out any content yourself before letting children go exploring by themselves.
The American Association of Paediatricians provide a useful list of age-appropriate providers of educational content and suggest the use of the following resources to guide media choices.:
- PBS Kids (www.pbskids.org)
- Sesame Workshop (www.sesameworkshop.org)
- Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org)
They recommend that you should try a game or app first, play it with your child, and then ask them about it afterward to see what he or she is learning. This will help maximise the interaction benefits we spoke about earlier.
Electronic devices are here to stay
They can provide a fun and engaging way to interact with your child. It’s clear that depending on how they’re used, they can be beneficial or detrimental to the way our children learn.
I suspect that the debate of the role of electronic devices in learning will continue to rage for some time. It remains up to us as parents to seek out positive, interactive content for our children on their devices and to ensure we set reasonable time limits that are age appropriate. This is true of many things in life, the old motto everything in moderation remains true today.
Kabali, H. K., Irigoyen, M. M., Nunez-Davis, R., Budacki, J. G., Mohanty, S. H., Leister, K. P., & Bonner, R. L. (2015). Exposure and use of mobile media devices by young children. Pediatrics, peds-2015.
Kucirkova, N. (2014). iPads in early education: separating assumptions and evidence. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 715.
Chang, A. M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J. F., & Czeisler, C. A. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,112(4), 1232-1237.
Radesky, J. S., Schumacher, J., & Zuckerman, B. (2015). Mobile and interactive media use by young children: The good, the bad, and the unknown. Pediatrics, 135(1), 1-3.