Like globalization and urbanization, ‘digitalization’ has already changed the world. The rapid proliferation of information and communications technology (ICT) is an unstoppable force, touching virtually every sphere of modern life, from economies to societies to cultures … and shaping everyday life. Childhood is no exception. From the moment hundreds of millions of children enter the world, they are steeped in a steady stream of digital communication and connection – from the way their medical care is managed and delivered to the online pictures of their first precious moments.
Children are increasingly gaining access to smart devices such as smart phones and tablets. Studies have shown media to have a large impact on the behavior patterns, beliefs and attitudes of adults. However, the advancement of pediatric guidelines and research is slow in contrast to this trend. In particular, children aged five years and below are more susceptible to the effects of media. Therefore, the need for recommendations beyond recent suggestions of limited screen time is required.
Children in preschool benefit the most from educational television programs such as Sesame Street. However, toddlers and infants absorb more information by interacting with the real world. According to Roseberry S et al., interactive media applications with appropriate response time and content have the same effect as real-life interactions in teaching language to two-year-olds. Unfortunately, further research into the subject is meager at best. Learn to read applications and e-books improve early learning through consistent interaction with numbers, letters, words and sounds. In addition, audio-visual enhancements, for example sound effects and concurrent text highlighting maintain the child's attention. If used correctly, these are highly effective educational tools.
Smart devices can be used to divert children’s attention during uncomfortable situations such as injections. However, these devices are now used to placate children during regular relations such as dining outside the home. One may infer that since children must learn internal self-regulation, singular use of interactive media in this manner may be detrimental long term.
Lastly, more parents are generally not troubled by their children accessing interactive media. This is mainly due to claims of educational value within thousands of these applications. Given the accessibility of mobile devices, real-world play and language interactions with guardians are likely to be replaced. While applications do teach tangible skills, para-academic capabilities such as social skills, problem-solving and emotional growth may very well be underdeveloped. Whereas the use of interactive media depends on several factors such as child temperament and socioeconomic status, the fact remains. More research and guidance is needed on the exposure of children to media.
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