11 Feb, 2016

Parents express concerns as more toddlers switch on tablet computers

The Conversation | Natalia Kucirkova | February 10, 2016

Most parents have profound concerns about their children reading digital books on tablets. In a new survey of 1,500 parents of under-eights in the UK about their attitudes to children’s use of technology and digital books at home, we found that only 8% have no concerns about them using tablets to read. For using digital media in general, only 16% of parents had no concerns.

By comparing the results with data from a similar survey conducted by the US-based Joan Ganz Cooney Center in 2014, the research also found that parents in the UK and US had different reasons for using or not using digital devices with their children. For example, more American than UK parents said that they use digital media together with their child to ensure they are not exposed to inappropriate content.

Our survey, commissioned by the charity Book Trust, highlighted the various opinions on technology “rights and wrongs” held by British parents. For example, 35% of parents thought that using interactive e-books would mean they lose interest in print books, 26% worried they would affect chidren’s attention span, and 14% that it would inhibit their learning.

Parents prefer to read print rather than digital books with their children under eight-years-old, but they do recognise the value of digital books for specific learning situations. The findings indicate that education and literacy charities need to maintain an open dialogue with parents about the various ways families use media.

But there are also key questions around who has access to technology. Another US survey of nearly 1,200 lower-income parents of school-age children and in-depth interviews with Hispanic families in three lower-income communities located in Arizona, California, and Colorado found that although most families (94%) had an internet connection, the access was often too slow, interrupted or from a shared digital device. These profoundly influenced children’s educational opportunities.

Strategies for parents

In their recent book, Tap Click Read, chief executive of Joan Ganz Cooney Centre, Michael Levine and journalist Lisa Guernsey recognise the diversity of families and ask the uncomfortable question: what if the differences in technology exacerbate the educational divide between rich and poor?