Forget the iPads and bring on the robots: it’s time to grow up with technology 2023

Gabriela Perez, a Tufts sophomore, watched TV at home. She formed her views on global cultures and social norms from TV and movies.

“TV introduced different cultures. “I mainly recall Asian characters from Disney movies like ‘Mulan’ (1998),” Perez remarked. “All that then kind of remains with you especially if that’s what you’re witnessing growing up.”

Technology may impact children’s views of other cultures and the world in numerous ways, including through mass media. The National Institutes of Health found that excessive screen usage thins children’s cerebral cortex. There is no unanimity on how children should use technology or if they should.

As our world grows more digital, early technology exposure might help kids grasp it. Make technology an active learning aid instead of a static screen that perpetuates bad preconceptions. Educators and researchers at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Studies and Human Development are using hands-on technology to engage youngsters.

Child studies senior lecturer Julie Dobrow is a Tisch College Senior Fellow for Media and Civic Engagement. Via the Tufts Children’s Television Project, she studies children’s animated television characters’ accents and vocabulary across race, gender, age, and ability.

Dobrow explained how children’s programming helps them develop socially and emotionally.

“While it is continually evolving,… there are some elements about your identity that emerge early in childhood when you start recognizing that not everybody looks identical [and] not everybody comes from the same type of background,” Dobrow said. “Even young children compare ‘self’ and ‘other.’”

Perez coordinates CTV Project research. She also discussed how media affects young children.

Perez said children are flexible. “They’re basically soaking in … all the information that they see. Therefore it’s crucial to make sure [TV] is authentic to cultures and has a range of characters.”

Technology can negatively impact children’s worldview. When the CTV Project began in 1996, male characters dominated female characters 6-to-1 in action and adventure shows, Dobrow said. Dobrow explained that villains were three times as commonly foreign than American.

“I’ve heard from kids in my classrooms for many years now that if they didn’t see themselves represented, it was upsetting, terrible, and it had consequences,” Dobrow said.

Dobrow is hopeful that the business is evolving after the CTV Project showed the harm television can cause young children.

“There is a lot more diversity than there ever was [previously] in children’s media both because of the number of platforms that are available for kids and also because I think there truly is a recognition out there among many content creators that they need to do different things and do them better,” Dobrow said.

Children learn technology in many ways. Assistant teacher Abigail Lee at Tufts Eliot-Pearson Children’s School believes her classroom offers students a unique escape from technology. She teaches 2–3-year-olds in the Rainbow Room. Lee explained why the school avoids electronics in the classroom so kids may focus on creating relationships with others and nature.

“[The youngsters] remark [how they would] watch movies on [their] mom’s iPad or… see [shows] on TV and things. But we attempt with the younger kids to have them more linked to the natural world, so we spend a lot more time outside,” Lee added. “No screens so they don’t become blank stares.”

Eliot-Pearson enrichment instructor Olivia Hobert had similar experiences hearing kids’ personal electronics use.

Hobert said it’s wonderful for kids to take a break from screens because that’s all they do at home.

Hobert uses technology to teach. KIBO, a screen-free robot, connects her students to technology. Former Tufts Professor Marina Bers created KIBO for 4–7-year-olds. Sequencing wooden blocks for KIBO to scan allows children to command him.

KIBO is interactive and teaches engineering concepts to kids. Hobert touted KIBO’s benefits.

Screen technology may be mind-numbing, Hobert added. “With KIBO, [students] have to physically move the robot and walk around the coding block so it gets not just their intellect but their body engaged.”

Hobert stressed the necessity of exposing youngsters to technology.

“I think it is incredibly essential to teach kids to use technology in a way that is not simply to play games or just something they do at home to pass time,” Hobert said. “It can teach coding and engineering.”

Technology’s effects on kids are unclear. Screen time and media stereotypes can hurt children. Technology can also broaden pupils’ horizons. Technology can help students learn about other cultures.

Dobrow said she accepts technology rather than fighting it.

“My own attitude is, rather than denigrate media,… we need to utilize it in beneficial ways,” Dobrow added. “As my students will tell you, I am always talking about media literacy, which means developing us all into individuals who can assess, analyze, and produce media in meaningful and educated ways.”

As research continues, experts believe that technology is here to stay and children must be prepared to use it.

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