November 30, 2015

Library Storytellers, Mobile Devices Growing in Popularity Among Very Young

The New York Times ran stories on consecutive days this month highlighting the importance of (and some concerns about) communicating with children in ways both time-honored and cutting edge.

The Times reported on November 1 on the fast-growing popularity of story times at libraries in New York City and around the country. Lines at some New York City library branches “stretch down the block . . . with tickets given out on a first-come first-served basis because there is not enough room to accommodate all the children [and parents] who show up,” the Times reported.

Traditional library story hours are more popular than ever, the article noted, as educators emphasize “the importance of early literacy in preparing children for school and for developing critical thinking skills. The demand crosses economic lines, with parents at all income levels vying to get in.”

The next day the Times reported on a different method of communicating with children in ways much less traditional. According to a small survey of Philadelphia parents, three-quarters of their children had received tablets, smartphones, or electronic music devices by age 4 and used them without supervision. Although the survey was not scientific, the article noted that some experts saw these findings as adding to the “growing evidence that the use of electronic devices has become deeply woven into the experience of childhood.”

In fact, one-third of the parents who responded to the survey said their children like to use more than one device at a time. But the health experts with whom the Times spoke were not unanimous in their concern.

Some experts said it was an apparent lack of parental supervision, rather than the use of the devices themselves, that they found worrisome. Another said it is not clear that the use of these devices causes harm. Studies such as this “ring the alarm bell without any content on why we should be alarmed,” said one expert.