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Technology and Young Children In The Digital Age

In the 21st century, school-age children are increasingly digital consumers of televisions, computers, gaming systems, smartphones and tablets. According to a recent study, 75% of children under the age of eight have access to a tablet or mobile device - an increase of 25% in just two years. While digital technology is becoming a tool that older children and adults use in their work and private lives, younger children are trying to emulate it through imitation, objective play and mastery as a tool for their own self-expression and learning.

For children aged 2 to 5 years old, families and early educators must consider how technology is used at home and in early learning situations. Parents wishing to use media with their children should start with high-quality content for at least 18 months, share content and share technology with them. Through the thoughtful use of technology, parents and former educators can engage children in key skills such as games, self-expression and computational thinking that support later success in academic disciplines and help to maintain young children's natural curiosity.

Technology can be encouraged to complement physical activity.  An example is when parents and children use an app to explore different types of flowers in a neighbourhood park.  When pointing the app on the phone to the flower, they can learn about different types or play console games that encourage adults and children to exercise.  Digital media can also be used to plan and monitor independent play, such as playing with blocks, colouring on blank paper or walking around the playground with babies and toddlers at a time when parents are not nearby to play with the children. One of the most attractive features of tablets is that children can share the devices at a young age and research shows that social interaction supports learning.

This underscores the need for a digital approach to lifelong learning to ensure that parents have the knowledge and skills to use digital tools to guide and manage their children's online activities.  Parents in general believe that they have an important role to play in helping their children develop safe and healthy habits around technology.

Increasing access to digital technology and the internet is accompanied by an increase in the amount of time children spend online. Children whose parents restrict media usage spend less time with digital media than their peers.  It is not only children who need to limit their use of technology; parents also run the risk of screens hindering their relationships with their children, especially younger ones.

The eSkills Malta Foundation has conducted studies which observe that the earlier a child is exposed to technology the more enthusiastic they are about taking up careers in ICT.  Therefore, the Foundation encourages parents to instil in their children the idea of learning by playing and doing.  This enables them to be intrigued by and at ease around technology.

What do you think?  Are children involved too early or too late in the world of technology?