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A few weeks ago, a friend of YouthBeat passed along this intriguing article from the New York Times on Silicon Valley stars who are opting to send their children to Waldorf schools – where technology is not allowed (to say the least). Their rationale: kids will learn computer skills eventually, and learning the Waldorf way (which includes knitting and playing with wooden manipulatives) engages the youth imagination more than any app. But the article’s author also acknowledges the other side of the debate: shouldn’t our classrooms take advantage of technology to bring them into the 21stcentury? The Joan Ganz Cooney Center (an extension of Sesame Workshop) has taken on answering this question as part of its mission…Just as Joan Ganz Cooney saw the potential to turn TV into an educational tool (inspired by the way in which it tantalized her own children, but also by the discomfort she felt when watching them glued to the tube), the Joan Ganz Cooney Center was established to “catalyze and supports research, development, and investment in digital media technologies to advance children's learning.”

And this debate does not only happen between the experts, but also on the playgrounds, play groups, and cocktail parties where parents compare their parenting strategies and beliefs. For some parents, exposing their kids to technology is as important as teaching them to read and write. For others, screens are sacrilege – along with sugar and toys that make sounds. For every parent who sees video games as anti-social and aggression-causing is another parent who attributes game playing to their child’s sophisticated strategic thinking. Anthropologists often say that if you want to understand culture, don’t look at what everyone agrees on – look at what participants in a culture debate. The spaces in which we’re most conflicted are often the sites where values are developed. Media and technology’s place in parenting, and screens’ role in schools, are certainly at the center of a heated discourse on how children should live in the media world right now.

Rather than attempting to wrap our arms around this massive subject, we thought it best to point our readers to three essential studies, all released in the past few weeks…

  1. In mid-October, the APA (American Academy of Pediatrics) reaffirmed their recommendation that screen time is not appropriate for children under two years of age. The study continues to ignore the role of digital media, but when it comes to TV viewing, the APA sees it as sub-par to free play, and parent/child interaction. We continue to question whether this recommendation is really based on media usage or is it attacking media as an activity that distracts from others which the APA deems more educational…Specific content viewed isn’t examined as much as time spent consuming media.
  2. Also in October, Common Sense Media released Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America. The study covers a broad range of digital media, and introduces data to support the emergence of a new “app gap.” According to the study, 55% of children from higher-income families have used a cell phone, iPod, iPad, or similar device for playing games, watching videos, or using apps, while just 22% from lower-income families have done so.
  3. Finally, an interesting study just released from a group of researchers representing varied institutions examined the unintended consequences of the Children’s Online Protection and Privacy Act (COPPA). The study looks at how Facebook’s Terms of Service, which stipulate that users must be at least 13 years old, have influenced parents’ behavior (many of whom allow their underage children to bypass the sites restrictions by lying about their age). The study suggests that parents might be teaching their children that it’s okay to lie, and might also be acting in opposition to their stated beliefs about shielding their children from online advertising.

Tell us where you net out on these important debates!