Technology and Digital Media

Technology and Young Children, My Household’s Example and Ideas of Screen Time


When I first read in Ghoting and Martin-Diaz (2013) about babies having televisions in their rooms, I must confess that my first (and silent) reaction was expletive-laden. Really?! Why?! Why in the world would a child (or an adult for that matter) need a television in their bedroom?

I can certainly understand the draw that television has. I too, enjoy a few shows of my own. I find Game of Thrones entertaining and I learn a lot from Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows. As a parent, I can relate to the desperate need to put kids in front of the television or place an iPad in hands so that I can get something done.

I live in a community where many people ban their kids from TV. There’s a large community of Waldorf families in my county and their philosophy is that kids should not have any screen time until middle school. This seems idyllic and lovely, but may only be reasonable if parents do not use mobile devices or watch television and the child stays within the Waldorf school and community. To my way of thinking, this restricted philosophy is not conducive to living in today’s society. It just seems like too much pressure for most people, myself and my family included.

I am not that pure and righteous a parent, and I’m sure my kids will suffer from it in some way that will require therapy for them later. I am doing my best to go along with as little guilt as possible.

We have a few parameters at my house that assuage my guilt and I highly recommend and approve of as choices for other parents. As a librarian, I do not want to spread more guilt and make parents and caregivers feel bad because they have not purged their households of all electronic media. I don’t think it’s either realistic or necessarily constructive for a child’s growth.

Here are a few ideas and rules that I came up with and stick to most of the time:

For the Television

  • Less than 2 hours of screen time per day
  • I encourage PBS programming— my favorites being (for toddlers and preschoolers) SuperWhy, Word World, Sesame Street (both new and classic episodes and for the whole family) Magic School Bus, Cat in the Hat, Puffin Rock, (a Netflix series) and Wild Kratts. Most of these shows are found on Netflix or YouTube or even the PBS website. Not only is the website good for child entertaining but there is a wealth of resources for parents too—brief articles about child development and parenting skills (could this be called “parent development?”). This is not to say that a Disney-movie is not shown upon occasion or we’ve completely banned My Little Pony, but we mix in some substance with the fluff.
  • Sometimes, hopefully once a week, I try to negotiate a TV-free day when it doesn’t get turned on at all. This way, my kids remember that there are lots of other fun things to do.
  • When adults watch and kids are around, it is child-appropriate. In my house it is usually a sports game and we discuss what’s going on, whom we’re cheering for, and for a loose Early Childhood Literacy connection we read the numbers on the scoreboard and discuss their values—more or less, etc. My oldest is asked to subtract larger numbers on the scoreboard and frequently reads the advertisements on the field or court and the names on the team jerseys. Her activities are usually self-directed.

For the iPad mini

  • For my oldest child, no more than an hour on the iPad a day and I encourage this time to be broken up in several segments, so her developing brain doesn’t melt, as I like to tell her.
  • iPad time for my preschoolers is never more than 15 minute turns for a total of 2 turns (I have twins and they take multiple short turns so that no one is either on it or has to wait for an extended period of time.)
  • My best recommendation for free iPad apps for preschoolers (and my experience is admittedly limited) is the series of Toca Bocca apps, including Toca Builders, Toca Nature and Toca Lab which all have basic science elements to them. To call these applications educational however would be a stretch.
  • We do use the iPad together, frequently towards the end of weekend breakfast to look at pictures or find basic information. We’ve discussed anything from whether or not guinea pigs are rodents to viewing dreamy pictures of Venice at sunset. It is a way of exploring the world without having to get out of our pajamas.

We don’t have reading apps on our devices. I’ve heard there are a lot of good ones out there, but in my house we pretty much just stick to reading from books and as we learn about letters, words and reading, we read the cereal boxes, street signs and billboards.

I find the best antidote to too much TV is to encourage imaginary play, outside games, puzzles, art projects or books. For instance, my brother-in-law who is the father of three children under the age of eight, instituted an art-before-breakfast-not-television rule in his house over the summer. There are adorable pictures documenting his success all over Instagram.

Ghoting and Martin-Diaz (2013) present a number of questions and topics about the use of digital media both at home and in library storytimes. My thoughts on using digital content in storytime is that it may be superfluous in a child’s life. The AWE computers and Fingertaps Jelly Jigsaw apps (among many, many others) on the computers in the children’s sections are enough to expose kids to using computers and digital media within a library setting. The one exception to this might be to use appropriate informational websites like National Geographic Kids or YouTube videos from NASA or BBC Earth to supplement informational books for kids. I would still shy away from actually bringing an iPad in to use it, rather give parents a list of good websites or put link within the library’s site.

The overwhelming majority of children attending storytime programs use tablets, smartphones and computer and watch television at home. We don’t need to include it at the library for adults to model. I don’t think we need to encourage more iPad use, especially at the expense of encouraging books.

Ghoting, S.N. & Martin-Diaz, P. (2013). Storytimes for everyone: Developing young children’s language and literacy. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.




Digital Media in the Library– Part Deux (and how my stance on digital media use has changed but my philosophy hasn’t)


Claudia Haines’ presentation in class (if a Collaborate session can be considered a classroom) about media mentorship made me reconsider my judgmental stance on the use of digital devices–see post below for evidence.

I’ve never been a huge fan of kids sitting and staring at the television for hours on end, but in the new world of tablets and smartphones, the level of interaction between user and devices has changed. I’m still not a fan of extended television viewing, and I think kids should run around outside instead of flicking around on a screen, but it is not realistic nor sound judgment to deny the existence of digital devices and the fact that people, and specifically children, use them.

So I guess that I’m going to have to get with the times and become familiar with what’s out there. I loaded a ‘Hooked on Phonics’ app that I’d afraid is a bit too didactic for my style and a ‘Chi’s Sweet Home’ app of cartoons based on my oldest daughter’s favorite manga. Not exactly early childhood literacy, but an honest start.

During class, there was much debate over the finite guidelines presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Some of my classmates argued that the AAP should talk more about the possibility of interactive media use while others justified the medical point of view as it pertains to the profession. I am inclined to agree with most of what the AAP recommends to parents because the medical reasoning for these recommendations is based in a large body of research done over the years. For example, viewing a backlit screen (which includes computers, smartphones, televisions and most tablets) can interfere with healthy sleep patterns. This means that the ghastly number of children who have televisions in their bedrooms need to have them off or better yet, removed entirely at bedtime. I think that pediatricians really are obligated to inform parents and kids of the downsides of too much media– a lack of healthy habits that include poor sleep and obesity. That’s fair.

It’s not to say however, that all digital media is bad all the time. This blog for instance, contains a lot of helpful information (I hope). As a future children’s librarian, I hope to be knowledgeable enough to find helpful, age appropriate and fun apps for families. And I’m looking forward to spending Christmas vacation testing some of them out on my guinea pigs children.

I’ll be fine with a few apps there and a game or two there. I still love a good nature walk, collecting acorn caps and tiny flowers for fairyhouses and I am never happier than I am with a good book in my hands, a cat in my lap and my daughter reading next to me and giggling. I am after all, a Bohemian librarian.

Chi image courtesy of new anime and many thanks to author Konami Konata

Haines, C. (2016, November 30). How to Be a Media Mentor. Presentation in Canvas through the SJSU School of Information, Info 269 Early Childhood Literacy.