Only one parent who responded, educator and preschool parent Tracy Bays-Boothe of Dallas, Texas, said she couldn’t believe that parents weren’t more enthusiastic about what a touch-screen tablet could bring to toddlers and preschool-age children. “Why CAN'T children, as part of their day, play, dance, sing, create, dig in the dirt, AND have access to high definition images, videos, and immediate information that can add to and enhance their immediate experiences?” she wrote. “‘I don't know’ has been replaced with ‘Let's find out!’ Technology in learning is all in how you use it.”
Kirkorian said something similar: “This is an age-old question that has been asked about almost every form of new media. It's a question of displacement. When children do (fill in the blank), they'll spend less time doing (fill in other activity that is presumed to be more educationally valuable),” she said. “However, research suggests that this is not usually the case - at least not for all children. It's a complex problem, but the bottom line is that content matters.”
My theory is that parents’ apparent strong feelings that toddlers should be spending more time splashing in puddles, sniffing roses, and eating Play-Doh, and less time staring zombie-like at a screen are really misplaced for our own ambivalence toward our technology-addled (or addicted) lives. When thinking of our children lined up at rows of laptops, tapping away at keyboards for the rest of their school careers, parents may have the urge to reach out and say - no, not yet. Plenty of time for computing later.
Teising agreed, and said that her ideal childhood for her son included, “Scraped knees and muddy boots, splashing around in puddles, giggling with friends, and making macaroni art,” and “not trying to force him onto the next thing.”
I shared my theory with Kirkorian –that we parents might idealize a childhood without technology as better. “I often hear ‘grown ups’ talk about the inherent value of ‘real’ objects over technology,” she said, “but frankly I don't see a difference (and there's no research to suggest there is one) between a stick and an iPad. Of course kids should have time to explore the natural environment and interact with other people. A more realistic question is whether an hour or two of touch-screens per day is going to devastate permanently cognitive/social development. It's unlikely, but we just don't know yet, and any answer will depend heavily on program content and the characteristics of individual children.”
Teising is happy that her son is now at home, tech-free, with a nanny and a little bit of Sesame Street. She is surprised that no other parents at the school have expressed concern for the iPad usage, but she still feels she made the right decision. “I mean, they’re babies,” she said.