By John Bloom
The young child is a gift to the world, a vulnerable and joyful work in progress so to speak. These days, the young child is also subject to intensive marketing, and is often viewed by the commercial world as a marketplace commodity, a once and future consumer. Modern media technology provides an effective delivery system for the latter while engaging the child’s natural interactive curiosity. There is no denying that technology, of course, gives us enormous benefits in an ever-evolving number of ways and that it is here to stay as an integral part of modern society. That said, I would ask you to step back with me and examine a deeper long-term consequence (beyond the content) of technological media exposure: the disruption of children’s developing senses. Out of respect for the capacities children bring as bearers of the future, we would be wise to protect them from the ease and onslaught of technology so that they can be free to develop their own “programs” (sensory and imaginative) in real time and space, through direct, unmediated experience.
The following statement characterizes one prevailing view: “New studies and pilot projects show smartphones can actually make kids smarter.” (From “A is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution,” by Anya Kamenetz, Fast Company, April 1, 2010). Do we truly believe that such achievements are accomplished by a machine? And what does “smarter” really mean? I have no doubt that some short-term performance outcomes can be achieved through interactions with technology, but is this real education or is it training for compliance? Children’s senses, sense organs (eyes, ears, etc), and neural pathways are continually forming physiologically until they are approximately nine years old. Each child gets to do this once, and the result, for better or worse, will be foundational for them through the rest of their lives. Young children arrive open to the world, naturally trusting, and dependent on the wisdom of the adult(s) caring for them. Because of this, technology that aims to entertain or teach is best held in abeyance until they have adequately developed to make good and self-guided use of technology’s gifts. Fortunately, there is a growing body of evidence to support this perspective (see www.allianceforchildhood.org).