Media and Technology in Early Childhood
Author: Kayla Knowlton, MS, PPC
The influence of technology and media in our daily lives is not going away anytime soon. Hand a two-year old a cell phone or a tablet and chances are, they are going to know how to use it, maybe even better than you. In 2013, it was reported that children younger than two spent an average of one ( 1) hour a day on screen media. Children between the ages of 2 and 8 spent two (2) hours a day on average consuming screen media. It has been suggested that in the last nine( 9) years those average numbers have increased significantly, especially following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are positive aspects of exposure to media and technology in childhood. We live in a technological age and children need technological skills to keep up with the ever changing world around them. But what are the risks of technology use and media consumption on young developing brains?
Research shows that overexposure to media and technology has significant negative impacts on early developing brains. Overexposure to media and technology has shown to negatively affect sleep patterns in young children. Time spent consuming media and playing on technology has decreased the amount of physical activity time for young children between the ages of two (2) and five (5). Healthy sleep and gross-motor activities are imperative for healthy brain development and consumption of media and technology are preventing our kiddos from these developmentally necessary activities. Research has also shown that overexposure to media and technology has been linked to cognitive challenges, language issues and a myriad of social-emotional and behavioral issues.
Media created for children in today’s age looks a lot different than the classic animation many of us grew up with. Colors are brighter, storylines are more intense and sound mixing is designed to stimulate brains and maintain a child’s focus. But if you pay attention to television shows and movies, apps and games geared toward children, and YouTube videos, you might start to notice that there are drastic stimuli changes every 3-5 seconds. These stimulus changes have significant implications for developing brains. It increases the need for smaller and more immediate reward systems. When the child doesn’t get the stimulus they need… that their brains are wired for based on this media consumption, they feel distressed and distress is exhibited with acting out behaviors.
So we know that there are some pretty significant implications on children who consume media and use technology… what do we do about that? By no means is it necessary to completely cut kids off from technology and media. The simple truth is that these tools are a part of life and there are some great things about them. But, it is important that we limit consumption as much as possible and make good choices about what types of media we are allowing kids to use. Videos or games with duller colors, slower movements and less stimuli changes can be a great way to gain their attention at the end of a long day in the classroom. Utilizing tablets or computers in the classroom should be done very intentionally. Make a lesson plan to go along with that, but steer clear of allowing children to play games or watch videos as part of play-time or free-time. Chances are they get more exposure to media and technology outside of the classroom… so limit their options in school.
Relationships and movement are key for childhood development. Media and technology use has been impacting these areas of our childrens’ lives. We need to find fun and engaging ways to incorporate body movement and relationship skills into our lives and our classrooms. Perhaps with a healthy balance of physical and digital activity we can guide the next generation towards the technological future while remaining grounded in the traditions of play and relationships that are necessary for development.
1. Media use in childhood: Evidence based recommendation for caregivers. E. Hawkney. (2019). https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2019/05/media-use-childhood
2. Schwarzer, C., Grafe, N., Hiemisch, A. et al. Associations of media use and early childhood development: cross-sectional findings from the LIFE Child study. Pediatr Res 91, 247–253 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-021-01433-