Health & Development
Advice for Parents of Young Children in the Digital Age
Fast-paced changes in today’s digital world have parents grappling with an unprecedented challenge—how best to integrate media and technology into their children’s lives.
It is a time to seize opportunities, according to the experts at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College.
“Healthy use of media and technology by the youngest children is possible—and more important—than ever,” says Michael Robb, Ph.D., Director of Education and Research at the Rogers Center. Robb manages the Rogers Center’s newest program, the Fred Rogers Center Early Learning Environment. Located at www.yourele.org, the site provides parents free digital resources and guidance, and empowers them as teachers of early language literacy.
“We are seeing an explosion in the number of digital resources that can have an impact on the intellectual, social, emotional and physical development of children birth through age 5,” says Robb.
“The challenge for parents is to select the videos, games and devices that have a real, positive developmental impact—and use them in ways that promote growth.” Robb offers practical advice for parents navigating the digital age:
Keep it interactive. The way a digital tool is used is as important as the tool itself; adult-child interaction should be emphasized. Rather than putting on a television show or handing over your smartphone and walking away, create a dialogue. Sit and discuss what you are seeing, ask questions, encourage imaginative ways to explore similar subjects in the outside world.
Match use with age. Children’s needs change as they develop. Any media use with infants and toddlers should be an interactive experience with adults, such as reading an e-book together; older pre-school children may enjoy exploring a touch screen or using video to record and view their play.
Have fun, stay engaged. Children’s media and technology are best when they support active, hands-on, creative and authentic engagement with the people and world around them. Look for games, websites and apps that encourage outdoor activity, healthy eating, critical thinking and other real-world skills.
Promote digital literacy. By modeling appropriate use of digital media, adults can help children learn to use the wealth of tools at their disposal in smart, healthy ways that complement their growth and give them greater access to the opportunities of the digital age.
The most important guidance of all is for parents and families to know their children’s unique interests and needs and to be aware of how the family’s media habits can affect learning and development for even the youngest child.
For more information and resources, visit the Fred Rogers Center Early Learning Environment, a free online resource.