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Spring 2013 Students, Stacey Oparnica

San Diegans divided about whether toddlers should use technology

By Stacey Oparnica

On college campuses nationwide, notebooks and binders are being replaced by laptops and iPads as students continue to incorporate electronic devices into their studies.

Whether for the efficiency, the speed of communication, or the accessibility of various online resources, students are relying on technology for academic success.

San Diego mother has tech-savvy 3-year-old

However, some may be surprised by the ages of America’s tech-savvy students. San Diego mother Briana Toia says her 3-year-old daughter, Madison, can navigate an iPad better than most adults.

Video: Briana Toia says her 3-year-old daughter, Madison, uses the iPad to review spelling, writing and counting on Apple's downloadable apps, and studies what she's currently learning in preschool.

Toia, who supports the inclusion of technology in school curriculum, says it’s important to introduce children to iPads and related devices at an early age because of how technology-integrated American society has become.

“Computer classes were mandatory when I was in high school and in middle school,” Toia said. “That’s how I learned to type fast, which helped me later on in life when I was job hunting.”

Toia says her daughter uses the iPad every day for no longer than an hour at a time and usually plays educational games on Apple’s downloadable apps.

“The educational games reinstate what she’s learning in pre-school,” Toia said. “So, she comes home and she has access to these apps that allow her to continue her studies at home. There are games for spelling, counting, you name it.”

3-year-old Madison plays an educational game on an iPad. She uses it at least once a day for no more than one hour.

3-year-old Madison plays an educational game on an iPad.

According to Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, there were 3 million downloads for Fisher Price apps for infants and toddlers in 2011.

Toia says preventing or postponing children from familiarizing with technology early on can greatly hinder their chances of success, both academically and professionally.

She says children need to transition into the digital world because that’s the direction American society is headed in.

Toia says parents need to maintain control of how a child uses electronic devices and that technology should in no way replace healthy childhood activities, such as playing outside.

Children’s Center at San Diego State University excludes electronic devices

While there are plenty of Americans that share Toia’s sentiments about technology, the Children’s Center at San Diego State University—which is open to infants, transitioning toddlers and preschoolers—intentionally excludes electronic devices from its curriculum.

Center Assistant Director Jane-Anne Carroll says she doesn’t believe technology is the best way for children learn.

“We want to have this generation of children feel connected to books and to stories and not just in an electronic way,” Carroll said.

She says it’s vital for parents to create intimate, bonding experiences out of educational ones with their children.

“There are (a lot of ebooks) and I suppose that there are families who have their children crawl up into their lap and read them a Dr. Seuss book that’s on an e-reader,” Carroll said, adding, “I have one and I love it.”

Slideshow: Children's Center Director Jane-Anne Carroll explains why the Center doesn't provide electronic devices to its infants, preschoolers and toddlers. Carroll says the children spend their time reading books, completing puzzles and games, and playing outside.

However, Carroll says that while the convenience and accessibility of technology can be extremely beneficial, replacing the current collaborative, one-on-one learning methods with what she considers to be isolating technological components isn’t in a child’s best interests.

“Maybe the e-readers are the next-best thing, but I’m hoping, certainly not in my lifetime, that there are no such things as books anymore,” Carroll said.

Weighing pros and cons of tech-use

San Diego mother Katie Swann has mixed feelings about introducing technology to her one-year-old son, Noah.

“Right now, I think he’s still too young to play with my iPad, even for something like playing educational games,” Swann said. “But, I’m sure that by the time I enroll him in school, kids will be playing with these things in class. That’s just the nature of the world we live in.”

SDSU's Children's Center does not provide electronic devices to its infants, preschoolers and toddlers. The Center's children spend their time reading books, completing puzzles and games, and playing outside.

The newly remodeled library at the Children’s Center. The staff members read to the children every day, several times a day.

Swann, who is considered to be a “digital native”—or one who was born or raised during the introduction of technology—says she’s grateful for the fact that she’s so tech-savvy.

“I can type very fast, Google something and find an answer in seconds,” Swann said. “And if something major happens, like the blackout, I can post a picture or an update and share it with my Facebook friends or Twitter followers instantly.

While Toia maintains that media literacy helps children adapt and become better prepared for a technology-driven future, questions are often raised about the repercussions of heavy integration of electronic media in the daily life of children.

Developing “tech skills” vs. “life skills”

In 2011, AVG Technologies Inc. released findings from its Digital Diaries campaign, “Digital Skills,” which revealed 2 to 5-year-olds possessed more “tech skills” than “life skills” and were able to “use a mouse and play a computer game, but could not tide a bike, swim or tie their shoelaces.”

The National Association for the Education of Young Children, however, maintains that there are contradictory studies about the negative effects of electronic devices on children.

NAEYC says that while some studies report children struggling with sleeping patterns, attentiveness, socialization, language development and behavioral issues as a result of increased screen time, possible effects depend entirely on each child—specifically his or her age and developmental level.

NAEYC maintains that appropriate use of technology can be a “hands-on, engaging and empowering” experience for children that “can enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities.”

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