Rosin, Hanna. “The Touch-Screen Generation.” The Atlantic, April 2013. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/the-touch-screen-generation/309250/
Hanna Rosin is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she covers a wide variety of topics for the magazine, including family issues, sex, feminism, crime, and more. She also writes for Slate.com, where she helped found the feminist sub-site Double X, and is the author of The End of Men, a book that examines whether men are still the most dominant sex. She is also a mother of three with plenty of gadgets at home, adding to her ethos in writing this article.
This article examines how rapidly changing technology is affecting children’s development, focusing on touch-screen devices such as tablet computers and smartphones. The author draws on sources including decades-old research, modern scholars and experts, and personal experiences (her own and those of other parents) to examine the topic from several angles. The fear for many parents concerned about the developmental effects iPads and iPhones and Androids have on their kids comes down to the same concerns parents have always had about any new medium: Is the TV/video game/touch screen going to turn my child’s brain to mush or make him or her socially stunted?
Over and over, Rosin hits on two major themes: Interactivity and moderation. Several pieces of research Rosin cites suggest that interaction is the key to very young children understanding things told to them, whether by a live person or by a computer program. Apps on the iPad are frequently cited by several experts and parents as effective ways to foster young children’s development, more effective than old-school educational television programs. But on the other hand, most of those cited in the story preach some moderation and control: Much like any other medium, too much iPad time can be a bad thing. Other topics touched on range from attachment to a known icon like Elmo (whose erroneous information is trusted implicitly by Rosin’s youngest child) to prejudices that favor one medium over another (one parent toward the end of the article says that “to say to a kid, ‘I’d love for you to look at a book but I hate it when you look at the screen’ is just bizarre. It reflects our own prejudices and comfort zone. It’s nothing but fear of change, of being left out”).
This article does a great job of thoroughly examining the impact that emerging media have on the very young. I think it is a must-read for anyone trying to wrap their heads around how to think about seeing a toddler swipe her hands across a touch-screen. Katie, a friend of mine from my past life as a journalist, told me at a brunch meeting a few weeks after this article was released, that she’s constantly amazed at seeing her daughter (now 16 months old, but only about 11 months at the time) play intently with her iPad, swiping not randomly but with some degree of actual understanding about what she was doing. I hadn’t read all of this article yet, but I told Katie about what I’d read of it so far, and after a little bit of discussion she expressed the opinion that, while she wouldn’t let Vivian play with gadgets all the time, there was little doubt that some play time with the iPad was a good thing.
The article points out that a lot more research needs to be done, but my takeaway is this: Interactive gadgets are just one more plaything and one more potential developmental tool. Much as Clay Shirky points out that adults still consume media even as they participate and share more, I think that in children’s development, every plaything and tool has an appropriate time, place, and use.