Letter from Ms. Laura

Children and Media: How much is too much?

This question is a common one amongst parents and an increasingly difficult one to answer as viewpoints vary widely and statistics about the impact of media on the developing mind are scarce. Increased exposure, and, in some cases, increasing dependence on media sources such as television, laptops, and cell phones, force those of us with young children to consider how dependence on these sources is affecting our children’s development.

While Dr. Montessori didn’t address issues of technology, she is clear about the importance of the environment in shaping the young child’s mind. More specifically, she explained that through concrete interactions with the environment and through early engagement with language, the child develops both intellect and social skills that serve as a foundation for success in life. Dr. Montessori further believed that children experience a sensitive period for language between the ages of zero and six. The phrase ‘sensitive period’ refers to a period in which the child is naturally drawn to something which contributes to his development and which comes easily to him.

We shouldn’t assume, however, that because language comes easily to a child during these formative years that we can take a back seat. Note Dr. Montessori’s key words of interaction and engagement. In other words, turning on the television isn’t the same as reading with or having a direct conversation with your child. We now know that even babies respond to language stimulus as early as seven months in utero and, while infants don’t “speak,” they certainly can communicate! Speaking to your infant and your young child is crucial to helping them form the neural pathways necessary for language development and future success in speech, reading and writing.

With this information in mind, can we draw the conclusion that media is an ‘inherent evil’ to be avoided at all costs? Not at all, nor should we label ourselves as ‘bad parents’ because we occasionally allow our children to watch television or play on our iPads. The reality is that media is a large part of our social culture and, like anything else in our environment, technology can be used as a beneficial tool for learning when used in moderation (it can also help you maintain your sanity on occasion!) Many parents, like Steve Jobs, whose children attend Waldorf school where learning is hands-on, simply opt to limit their children’s exposure to technology. Rest assured, there are healthy ways for your family to engage with media and finding the right balance for your family becomes easier with education and the right awareness.

If you’re not sure where to begin, start by taking advantage of your resources here at Athena. Your guides are an invaluable resource for tips on how to foster your child’s development based on their age and specific developmental needs. In addition, the Parent Resource page of our website has an extended book list containing more information about the importance of the formative years in language development, as well as several resources pertaining specifically to media.

Here are a few to get you started:

Recommended Media Reads for Adults 

  • The Elephant in the Living Room by Frederick Zimmerman and Dimitri Christakis
  • Unplugged Play by Bobbi Conner
  • iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind by Dr. Gary Small

Recommended Links