Jane O'Connor

Jane O’Connor

Dr Jane O’Connor, Senior Researcher in Education (Early Years), discusses her Technobabies research –  an investigation into the use of touchscreen technology among children under three.

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.

The truth is that nobody yet knows if using touchscreens at such a young age is advantageous to children or not. 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 exploring how babies and toddlers are using touchscreens and identifying any concerns parents/carers may have around such usage. The first stage of the project has been an online parental survey, the results of which are currently being analysed and written up. Early findings seem to point to mixed attitudes and practices amongst parents regarding how often they allow their very young children to use touchscreens and what their children do with them, based on the parents’ age and education, the presence, or not, of older siblings, and the child’s gender. Full details of the results of this stage of the research will be released to the media on 21 July 2014.

The next stage of the project will be the collection of ethnographic data from families through interviewing, observations and diaries. 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 wellbeing of their children and which is based on academic, and not market, research.

If you are the parent/carer of a child under three and would like to be involved in this stage of the project, please contact me and I will send you further details.

Birmingham City University is taking part in Universities Week 2014 – (Monday 9 – Friday 13 June) – A UK-wide campaign highlighting the value and importance of university research to our everyday lives. Join in on the conversation on Twitter using #uniweek.

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Jane O'Connor

Jane O'Connor

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