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For Digital Natives, Childhood May Never Be The Same

October 29, 2013

Our children these days might be called digital natives, kids who grow up surrounded by and immersed in digital media. How does that affect childhood? How might it affect their adulthood? This week All Tech Considered kicks off a week of stories about kids and technology.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Robert Siegel.


And I’m Audie Cornish. And it’s time for All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: This week, we’re exploring the subject of kids and technology. Children growing up these days are surrounded by and often immersed in digital media. You might call them digital natives. And we’re going to explore what it’s like to raise them.

Technology correspondent Steve Henn joins us now. Hey there, Steve.


CORNISH: So we’re going to hear several of these stories over the next few days about parenting in the digital age, right? Give us the frame here.

HENN: Right. Well, you might remember about a month ago, the comedian Louis C.K. went on a rant on the Conan O’Brien show about teens, parents and cell phones.


LOUIS C.K.: Some parents really struggle with like, all the other kids have the terrible thing so my kid has to. Yeah, let – you know, let your kids go and be a better example to the (bleep) kids. Yeah, just because all the other stupid kids have phones, doesn’t mean that oh, OK, well, my kid has to be stupid otherwise she’ll feel weird.

HENN: What struck us was how well Louis C.K. expressed his own fears about what all this technology was doing to his own kids, and we think a lot of parents probably feel that way. So this week we are going to help you out. If you’re a parent or a kid, or were just a kid once, we have a bunch of stories coming on everything from video games to bullying. And we want to hear from you, our audience, about how technology is changing the way children and teens grow up. You can go to NPR’s All Tech Considered blog to tell us about your own experiences.

CORNISH: And, of course, just this morning, the American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidelines on whether parents should even allow screen time. So Steve, I mean, what are they saying there?

HENN: Well, the last time the academy made recommendations like these was about five years ago. Back then, they recommended no more than two hours of screen time a day for older kids and nothing for children under two. But, you know, that was way before 75 percent of teens had cell phones. Today, many do school work on tablets or computers and those guidelines seem somewhat out of step.

So the academy today is recommending that parents make a media plan, including turning off gadgets at meals and shutting down completely before bed. But for the littlest kids, those babies under two, they still discourage any screen time at all.

CORNISH: Now when the AAP developed those old recommendations, they were really looking at television. I mean, now even little babies can operate an iPhone.

HENN: Well, that’s right. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit based out here in San Francisco, came out with survey this morning which looked at just how common it was for even the youngest children – kids under two – to use mobile devices like iPhones and tablets, and the results were remarkable. Thirty-eight percent of babies and toddlers used touch screens. For kids under eight, the average amount of time children spent on mobile devices has tripled in just the last two years.

So this leaves all kinds of questions. You know, do these screens help kids learn in any real way? And how much time in front of a touch screen is too much?

CORNISH: All right, so how are we getting started?

HENN: Well, with the youngest members of the touch screen generation: babies. Today my colleague Elise Hu is going to explore how touch screens have invaded infants and toddlers lives.

CORNISH: Hey. Thanks, Steve.

My pleasure.

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