Shifting the Conversation on Early Childhood and Technology

For over a decade the debates and discussions about technology and young children have been driven by policy and statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They continue to urge that children under the age of two years have limited access to television or screen based entertainment. This is a very reasonable and appropriate statement, though the media are often reporting the 1999 policy as claiming children under two have no access to screens.

The idea of limiting children's screentime is based on the knowledge, experience and research of people who have dedicated their lives to the health and well-being of young children. It has served us well, but also is limiting in that it has influenced broader discussion and exploration of the value of digital media for all children by placing negative perspectives on digital media that align with other important and well reported issues like video game violence and children accessing inappropriate content online. These perspectives fail to acknowledge the context of the world in which children grow up and have focused the discussions about children's use of technology solely on the potential negative impact, rather than allowing us to explore how we support children to learn and develop in our increasingly technological world.

All that said, we are beginning to see the debate and discussion change.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center (FRC) have just release a joint statement on "Technology and interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8." This document has been through extensive consultation and drafting for more than a year and it encompasses the perspectives, experience and research of people who work and engage with children every day in holistic contexts of early childhood development and learning. It is a much needed document in the early childhood and technology policy space because it does not shy away from the key fact that we all are increasingly aware of: young children are engaging with technology.

Parents are handing their mobile devices to their children to play with -- for respite, for learning, for a whole range of reasons. It is a practice that the Joan Ganz Cooney Center have called "the pass back effect." There will be those crunching numbers and researching figures, but children's increased use and exposure to technology is one of those areas that we don't even really need to explore in that depth. A simple look at the world around us tells us that it is, in most cases, true.

The challenge then has shifted. It is no longer useful to simply think about limiting children's exposure and access to TV or screens. We have to begin thinking about how we as parents, educators and a community support children to engage with technology in ways that support their development. We need to understand what quality digital tools are and what quality practice looks like. To do otherwise would be to bury our head in the sand and do a disservice to young children. This is not just in the case of children who have access, but children from backgrounds and communities who have limited or no access. The importance of considering the need for them to be embraced by a digitally inclusive society is another issue that needs consideration and further exploration.

Thanks to the "Technology and interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8" there is now a great document to help develop a shared language with which to discuss these issues, and a basis from which to build new policies, programs and professional development for those who work, engage, care and are concerned about the learning and development of young children. As Jerlean Daniel, Executive Director for NAEYC said that the launch, "[t]he position statement provides important, timely, research-based guidance to professionals as they consider if, when and how to use technologies."

But, the value of the framework was best summered up by Rita Catalano, Executive Director for the Fred Rogers Center. Her words will hopefully echo out across the early childhood sector and change the nature of our discussions and open up professionals and policy makers alike to a new way of thinking and engaging with these issues. She said:

"We believe that when used appropriately, technology and interactive media have tremendous potential to nurture early learning and development. The position statement is intended to support all those who care for and about young children in making informed, child-centered decisions about these new tools."