Babies and Digital Content? – Think Twice

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Parents are often faced with choosing the right content for their children. In their very early years, these choices will prove to be critical for their optimal development. But also very critical is how this content is shared with your baby or toddler - along these lines stands the question: In this day and age, should we leverage digital media technology for teaching our baby/toddler? Is this good for them?

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)1, during the earliest years, infants and toddlers interact primarily with people. Their interactions with toys are usually in the context of human interaction as well. They need to freely explore, manipulate, and test everything in the environment. But what about digital content learning?

Here is an interesting story, a few years ago Baby Einstein (owned by Disney) sold DVD’s for young children and suggested this material made the children learn faster. Rebekah Richert2 and her team then published research on Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine which showed that the children who watched the DVDs didn't learn any more words than children who did not watch. Further more, past analyses have found that infants who watch educational DVDs learn fewer words and score lower on certain cognitive tests by the time they reach preschool than kids who haven't watched the videos. Baby Einstein then gave a lot of money back3.

What is the moral of the story? There is nothing wrong with technology, but when it comes to very young children, it’s all about the human touch. There is little research to suggest that infants and toddlers learn from watching videos, says the NAEYC1, and if technology is used, it must be in the context of conversation and interactions with an adult. Here are some take-aways, when it comes to teaching your baby/toddler: 

  • Babies are better able to learn sounds if they hear them from a live speaker (a parent) who engages with them directly and uses language in a repetitive, reinforcing way2.
  • Allow children to explore any digital materials only in the context of human interactions, with an adult as mediator and co-player1.
  • Children of this age are drawn to push-button switches and controls. Technology tools that infants and toddlers might use must be safe, sturdy, and not easily damaged1.
  • Use shared technology time as an opportunity to talk with children, use new vocabulary, and model appropriate use. Avoid passive screen time1.
  • Most importantly, remember the guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics: Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens4.

 


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References:

  1. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Effective Classroom Practice: Infants and Toddlers http://www.naeyc.org/content/technology-and-young-children/infants-and-toddlers
  2. Time.com - Baby Wordsworth Babies: Not Exactly Wordy. By Alice Park Tuesday, Mar. 02, 2010 - http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1968874,00.html
  3. The Guardian.com, Disney offers Baby Einstein refunds by Katie Allen - http://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/oct/26/disney-offers-baby-einstein-refunds
  4.  The American Academy of Pediatrics - Media and Children - https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/pages/media-and-children.aspx

Jorge Gallego
Jorge Gallego

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