When is ‘too much’ a knee-jerk reaction to the unfamiliar?

Child & digital media

‘Smartphones and tablets are ruining childhood. No, wait—scratch that. Television is dumbing down our youth. Actually, hang on. Comic books are corrupting children’s morals. No, hold up. Books are ruining our ability to remember. Wait — back up a bit. We don’t like the way our kids have been painting on cave walls instead of just listening to elders recite stories by the bonfire.’

A recent blog post on children and technology from the US Fred Rogers Center says each new development in media technology causes excitement and angst among adults. But, as authors Michael Robb and Junlei Li suggest, children’s ‘obsession’ with technology could be telling us more about their underlying needs.

Mastering today’s technology may be more about meeting childhood needs similar to the childhood needs of earlier generations than we realise. Yet it is still worth weighing when ‘too much’ is just our knee-jerk reaction to unfamiliar forms, and when ‘too much’ really is too much. Robb and Li offer suggestions on tell tale signs.

This is a timely discussion in the week where the President of the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM), Professor Elizabeth Handsley, questions the too-narrow focus on cyber-bullying in proposals for a children’s E-commissioner. Could the narrower role of the proposed commissioner be another kind of knee-jerk reaction? Cyber-bullying is a real problem but not the most pressing priority for parents of younger children. Television use is considerably higher than internet or social media use among this group. Parents of younger children need help, Professor Handsley says, managing screen use of old and new media. Robb and Li suggest that ‘managing’ screens includes understanding the role they play in the child’s world and helping children strike a balance.

Read the original Fred Rogers blog to explore what’s happening when young children seem to obsess about technology and how adults can respond.

Read more from ACCM on the children’s E-commissioner and screens: Is cyber-bullying the greatest screen risk for children?

Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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