Academic journal article The Future of Children

Children and Computers: New Technology-Old Concerns

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Children and Computers: New Technology-Old Concerns

Article excerpt

Abstract

Computer technology has ushered in a new era of mass media, bringing with it great promise and great concerns about the effect on children's development and wellbeing. Although we tend to see these issues as being new, similar promises and concerns have accompanied each new wave of media technology throughout the past century: films in the early 1900s, radio in the 1920s, and television in the 1940s. With the introduction of each of these technologies, proponents touted the educational benefits for children, while opponents voiced fears about exposure to inappropriate commercial, sexual, and violent content.

This article places current studies on children and computers in a historical context, noting the recurrent themes and patterns in media research during the twentieth century. Initial research concerning each innovation has tended to focus on issues of access and the amount of time children were spending with the new medium. As use of the technology became more prevalent, research shifted to issues related to content and its effects on children. Current research on children's use of computers is again following this pattern. But the increased level of interactivity now possible with computer games and with the communication features of the Internet has heightened both the promise of greatly enriched learning and the concerns related to increased risk of harm. As a result, research on the effects of exposure to various types of content has taken on a new sense of urgency. The authors conclude that to help inform and sustain the creation of more quality content for children, further research is needed on the ef fects of media on children, and new partnerships must be forged between industry, academia, and advocacy groups.

With the introduction of each new wave of innovation in mass media throughout the twentieth century--film, radio, television--debates on the effects of new technology have recurred, especially with regard to the effect on young people. [1] Each new media technology brought with it great promise for social and educational benefits, and great concern for children's exposure to inappropriate and harmful content.

The wired computer provides today's new mass media--and computer games, CD-ROMs, and the Web are the focus of today's media debates. Sixty percent of American homes with children ages 8 to 17 have computers, and most of these computers are connected to the Internet. [2] Supporters of computer technology point to the social and educational benefits of interactivity, while others warn of its potential harms. Concerns about children's use of computers are being raised in the press, by parents, and increasingly, in public policy forums. In many ways, these debates echo those surrounding the introduction of other new media throughout the past century.

This article places the current controversy and research on children and computers in a historical context. As a new era of research on children's use of computers begins, a look back at public controversy and research studies documenting the effects of older media is useful both to point out where we have been, and to determine how we might proceed in the future. [1] The first section describes the debates surrounding the introduction of earlier media, noting the similar promises and objections and trends in research that have emerged each time. The second section provides a more detailed discussion of how the controversy and research surrounding the introduction of computer technology and new media reflect these same themes. The article concludes with a few brief observations about directions for the future.

Early Media: Recurrent Patterns in Controversy and Research

Debates surrounding the introduction of earlier media have highlighted the novel attributes of each technology, but the promises and concerns have been fundamentally similar. In general, proponents of media innovation argue that the new technology benefits children by opening up new worlds to them, while opponents argue that new media might be used to substitute for real life in learning ethical principles, undermining children's morality and causing them to engage in illicit sexual and criminal behavior. …

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