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How Many Decades until we Understand Digital Media and Children’s Well-being?

By Justin Reich — June 05, 2012 1 min read

Ian Quillen has blogged recently about very, very preliminary research on the psychological impact of digital media. His post reminds me of one of my favorite set of facts:

The first television station in the U.S. began broadcasting in the 1920s.
The first regular commercial broadcasting in the U.S. began in the 1940s.
The first recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics for television viewing were published in 1984.

So it took at least three decades after the widespread distribution of televisions in American homes for social scientists to develop enough research to make conclusive statements about the impact of television on young children.

Social science is much more fully developed now that in the mid 20th century, and we’re much more attentive to the need to study digital media. But the fact is, for the years and decades ahead, we need to approach what we know about digital media, learning, and psychological health with great humility. We need to be cautious about anyone (especially technology companies) promoting unguarded optimism. And we need to be cautious about anyone (especially media outlets) stoking fears of the new with limited evidence (not accusing Ian of that BTW!).

For my own part, we watch about two to five online videos of songs with our 18 month old most days. Bingo is currently a big hit, and we’re working on learning the motions and words. Are we inhibiting language development by replacing non-tech mediated interactions with these media-mediated interactions? Are we expanding her horizons by introducing her to diverse forms of music, dance and play? Is introducing her to the iPad and iPhone at such a young age risking future online addictive behavior? Or is our modeling of limit setting behavior preparing her for a lifetime of judicious media use?

By the time my daughter is old enough to be a researcher, we’ll have some answers to these questions.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

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