You can't deny it. Technology is part of life in our society... more so every day. It changes the way we communicate, socialize, conduct business, and handle daily tasks. Children need to be prepared to function in this type of society. We ease them into it with the software we choose and the time we provide for them on computers and other devices.
By the time we get a child in our early childhood classroom, he may already have logged thousands of hours of screen time. He may have started accumulating these hours as an infant, with baby videos and TV. Mom may have found it easier to give him her phone with a movie, than interacting with him in the car or a restaurant. Popping in a DVD while making dinner worked really well, and soon it expanded to time after dinner. He also had some games to play, too. Soon, it would easier to do this just about any time or most of the time… and the child probably learned just the right buttons to push (pun intended) to get the devices turned on. Screen activities were now part of his life and had begun to overshadow other activities, like playtime with Mommy and Daddy or other children, and playing outside. He wasn’t missing these other things and was now actively preferring a screen.
We all know these children, I’m sure. It could be a relative or neighbor’s child, or maybe a child in your classroom. A classic example was last fall, at my neighbor’s house. It was her four-year-old son’s birthday party. The house and yard were filled with cousins and children from his preschool. There were presents to open and birthday candles to blow out. But the birthday boy spent the entire afternoon alone, up in his room, playing a new video game his uncle gave him that morning. Nothing or no one could coax him down to his own birthday party. In fact, any suggestion to do so prompted screams of protest.
This will be difficult to change for this child and those like him. It will be withdrawal, in a sense, and painful for all involved. And unnecessary. As we collaborate with families in our programs, information about the appropriate use of technology by young children should be made available to parents, so they can make good choices from the very beginning.
As professionals in early childhood, we know that technology cannot substitute for hands-on experiences with real things and face time with real people, because this is the way children learn. So, we must be vigilant. Technology is a wonderful tool and must be used as such, and in developmentally appropriate ways. It is not a curriculum or a caregiver. Knowing the difference is our responsibility.