Jane O'Connor

Jane O’Connor

Dr Jane O’Connor, Senior Researcher in Education (Early Years) at Birmingham City University.

As both the mum of a toddler and a Senior Researcher in Early Years’ Education I am particularly concerned about the lack of information and guidance for parents about babies and very young children using touchscreens such as smartphones and iPads.

I am currently potty training my little boy and we are both finding it a rather challenging time.  But wait a minute, there’s an App for that! Within minutes he is being congratulated by a total stranger on his ability to perform a bodily function and being awarded virtual stickers that he can drag over to his high definition reward chart. My feelings are mixed. Am I being a ‘good’ mum finding up to the minute ways to help my child reach early milestones as well as en-culturing him into the digital world in which he will grow up? Or am I a being a ‘bad’ mum, jettisoning my parental responsibilities onto a pixelated piece of programming, a high resolution load of nonsense that adds nothing to my son’s experience of life and potentially confuses his emerging ability to socialise and build relationships?

The truth is that nobody knows. Yet. The truth is that it is in the vested interests of the technology companies and software producers to aggressively market touchscreen devices and Apps to families with babies and very young children because they want to ensure that the next generation are securely attached to their products, and will support them for a lifetime.  The question of whether using technology from such a young age is actually beneficial to children has become somewhat lost in the thrill of the new. Touchscreen interfaces mean that babies can drag and tap from just a few months old and are able to interact with technology in a way which was impossible until a couple of years ago. This is an enormous change in the whole experience of early childhood which is potentially incredibly liberating for the very young, but which is also unchartered territory in terms of their physical, educational, social and psychological development.

I think there is an urgent need for a neutral, rational approach to exploring the use of touchscreens by very young children which has no other agenda other than to find out what we do not know and suggest ways forward which will help parents make informed choices about their children’s technological activities. The ‘Technobabies’ project which I am leading at Birmingham City University aims to do just that by way of a questionnaire asking the parents/carers of babies and toddlers about their children’s use of touchscreens and to identify any concerns they may have. By gathering this information we can start to map out how families are incorporating touchscreens into their homes and the lives of their children, and what they feel are the potential benefits and problems that such technology may bring to the very young. We can also identify what kind of advice and information families would like, advice which is located in the well-being of their children and which is based on academic, and not market, research.

If you have at least one child under three and would like to be part of this research project please click on the link below to complete the short on-line questionnaire. The more parents and carers we can get to fill in the information about their children the more we can begin to understand the lived reality of bringing up children in a digital age.

http://www.survey.bris.ac.uk/bcu/technobabiesproject

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Jane O'Connor

Jane O'Connor

Senior Researcher in Education (Early Years) at Birmingham City University