Nowadays it is almost common to see young children, even infants, with some sort of gadget in their hands. Additionally, they are exposed to media that is not physically in their hands: television, music, billboards … etc.
With the ubiquity of technology, the discussion of this media exposure impacts development is an equally common discussion topic. Now I don’t know about you, but back in the day, when I was a child, I did not have a tablet to play with while my mom and dad ate a quiet meal. Like every generation inclined to believe of their life on Earth, we too think that these are exceptional times.
However, while I am not denying the particular abundance of media in our lives today, it is interesting to find out that a “technophobia” of sorts has occurred and reoccurred since the late 19th century. (This, I recently learned thanks to a book co-edited by Georgetown University’s very own Dr. Sandra Calvert.) So, while I did not play with a tablet when I was a child, the discussion of television exposure and its detriments was equally popular as the tablet and baby discussion is today.
In fact, when the radio became popular in average American households, concerned citizens were up in arms about the high dose of “media” exposure their children received. If you ever indulge in your childhood nostalgia like I do and listen to “Fibber McGee & Molly” or “Our Miss Brooks” you may be surprised. These radio shows from early- to mid- 20th century provided hours of innocent entertainment; the content is hardly graphic, violent, or sexual in nature. And, moving forward to discuss the invention of television with shows such as “Leave it to Beaver,” again, we find innocent entertainment lacking anything but vulgarity.
In The Handbook of Children, Media and Development, Wartella and Rob discuss the history of media technologies. I was shocked to read about anti-media activism against media content in the 1920s! What, if anything, did those parents find “over-stimulating” in the radio and television programming of the time?!! Parents and educators were concerned that radio content in the 1920s or television content of the 1930s media leads children awry–to philander about! The older generation at the time who did not grow up with radio or television, respectively, in their households were aghast at the new generation of parents who exposed their children listen to shows like Fibber McGee & Molly or Leave it to Beaver!
Despite its exponentially increasing presence in our 21st century existence, we have yet to hear any scientifically based final verdict on whether or not media is generally good or bad for child development.
As Sandra Calvert says in lecture constantly, the only foolproof generalization regarding technology presence in child development is that it certainly is consequential for development from birth. Based on her book, this conclusion holds true even when technology & media content is in the background of a child’s home life. It almost seems like we will never arrive at a black or white statement on whether media is good or bad. In fact, I suggest that we never seek such conclusions. “All good” or “all bad” statements on media exposure are drastic stances. So while life today is turning into all media, perhaps we should reap utilize its benefits on a selective basis… and stay gray!
Again, there is no denying the fact that technology presence is at an all time high–and perhaps only increasing from here on out. That being said, the rise of any new technology, be it the gramophone, radio broadcasts, telephone, and television, always presents apprehension on the side of older non-native generation, and excitement for the native-generation of that advancement. Let us remind ourselves that resistance to new technological advancement entering our daily lives is a reoccurring discussion.