Toddlers and Tablets: Media discourse, policy and advice for parents

Presenters: Donell Holloway, Kelly Jaunzems and Lelia Green (Edith Cowan University)

Abstract:
This paper forms part of an ARC Discovery Grant titled Toddlers and Tablets: exploring the risks and benefits 0-5s face online, an element of which investigates popular discourses regarding very young children’s media use. Based on analysis of data collected from the public sphere and popular media over a twelve month period (March 2015 and March 2016) the authors find that Australian parents have been left without realistic and practical advice about their very young children’s media use.  Most news, magazine and blogger commentaries collected were alarmist in tone and did not resonate with the realities of the everyday lives of parents with very young children.  The authors recommend that policy and guidelines be developed that capture the realities of present-day parenting, as well as the various activities and affordances made available via touch screen technologies.

Popular discourse regarding very young children’s use of computer screens, such as iPads, have an element of media panic about them.  These range from children becoming mindless eaters to developing strabismus (cross-eyed).  Young children’s use of touch screens is seen to be replacing physical and imaginative play (Are children consuming too much technology?, 2015).  Theses screens have also been blamed for physical frailties such as “weaken[ed] core muscles, bad posture, unfitness, obesity, junk food and mindless eating” (Carlyle, 2016), and poor eye health, including short-sightedness (Esslior Vision Foundation, 2015; Anderson, 2016; Carlyle, 2016; Baker, 2016).  Internet addiction (Coulson, 2015), sleep deprivation (Baker, 2016), delayed language development, as well as poorly developed social skills are also blamed on screen overuse (Anderson, 2016b ; McDougal, 2014; Orlando, 2016), as well as poor emotional and cognitive development of very young children (Are children consuming too much technology?, 2015; Panahi, 2015; Doherty, 2016; Anderson, 2016b; Baker, 2016).

These warnings and admonitions are based on outmoded American Academy of Paediatrics recommendations regarding children’s screen times (Brown, Shifrin & Hill, 2015). These old recommendations promoted complete abstinence or strict time limitations for different age groups without taking into consideration what the child is actually watching or doing onscreen (Brown, SHifrin & Hill, 2015). These unrealistic expectations, amplified by celebrity comments, have contributed to the guilt that parents feel about their child’s use of touchscreen technology.   Celebrities such as Kate Winslet, Jamie Oliver, Hugh Jackman and David Beckham have publically expressed their view that the use of screens should be limited and monitored, going as far as shaming parents who use this technology to pacify, distract and entertain their children (Lovett, n.d; Kaplan, 2015).

For most Australian parents these old guidelines are impractical and unachievable. Consequently, many parents seem to be ignoring these recommendations and media warnings, with an estimated 60% of Australian children aged between 0-5 years using internet connected screens (Green and Holloway, 2014).  What is need therefore are effective, research-based guidelines based on children’s developmental stages and the affordances of different apps and devices, as well as research-based recommendations that incorporate parental co-use as a way to make screen time an interactive and shared experience.

References

Anderson, S. (2016a). Are smart phones going to make our children cross-eyed?  Retrieved from http://www.mamamia.com.au/do-smart-phones-make-kids-cross-eyed/

Anderson, S. (2016b). Experts warn giving your child an iPad to calm a tantrum stunts their development.  Retrieved from http://www.mamamia.com.au/experts-warn-giving-your-child-an-ipad-to-calm-a-tantrum-stunts-their-development/

Baker, J. (2016). You must never give in to kids’ iPad tantrums, Daily Telegraph.

Brown A, Shifrin DL, & Hill DL. (2015). Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use. AAP News, 36(10), 54.

Carlyle, R. (2016, Mar 7). Junior Digital Detox, The Australian.

Coulson, J. (2015). Screening bad habits is crucial to development, Hobart Mercury.

Doherty, E. (2016). The only screen they need is for the sun, Townsville Bulletin.

Esslior Vision Foundation. (2015). Kiwi Children Suffering Eye Damage from Excessive Device Use [Press Release].

Green, L., & Holloway, D. (2014, Jul 9-11). Zero to eight: Very young children and the domestication of touch screen technologies in Australia. Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) conference, Melbourne Australia

Kaplan, M. (2015). Celebrity Parents Make Good Screen Sense A Priority, The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/celebrity-screen-sense_us_559bff08e4b0759e2b510494?section=australia

Lovett, S. (n.d). David Beckham Reveals His Take On Screen Time At The Kids’ Choice Sports Awards.  Retrieved from http://www.motherandbaby.co.uk/lifestyle-and-celebs/celebrity-mums/david-beckham-reveals-his-take-on-screen-time

McDougal, B. (2015). Not-so-smart parenting, Daily Telegraph.

Orlando, J. (2016, Mar 30). Tablets at the table can influence child development, not always in a good way. The Conversation.

Panahi, R. (2015, Oct 12). We can’t stop kids looking into the future, Herald Sun.

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