Social Hazards or Helpers?: The Role of Mobile Media in Early Childhood Social Development

Social Hazards or Helpers?: The Role of Mobile Media in Early Childhood Social Development

Courtney K. Blackwell (Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1486-3.ch014
OnDemand PDF Download:
No Current Special Offers


This chapter reviews current theoretical and empirical work on associations between young children's mobile media use in early childhood education settings and their social development, including social relationships and foundational social skills such as communication, collaboration, and positive social interactions and engagement. Touchscreen tablets are highlighted given their increased presence in early childhood education as well as their unique affordances specifically for young children. Particular attention is paid to factors influencing whether, what, and how educators integrate tablets into their classroom environments; facilitators and barriers to integration; how such integration may enable or interfere with social skills and relationships; and implications for practice and policy.
Chapter Preview


Current discussions on the influence of mobile media on children’s health and development reflect a long tradition of potential promises and pitfalls of new technology (Lauricella, Blackwell, & Wartella, 2017; Wartella & Jennings, 2000; Wartella & Robb, 2007). While the promise of computers to transform learning and increase academic achievement was championed by many, others purported this innovation to be antithetical to one of the core aims of early childhood education and development – social relationships (Cordes & Miller, 2000).

So too with mobile media. Affordances such as ubiquitous, on-demand access to media content are viewed as both learning transformers and relational disrupters. In particular, concerns over computers being “emotional and social hazards” (Cordes & Miller, 2000, pg. 39) remain salient for mobile media, with hyperbolic fears that early and continued use will result in a new generation devoid of social skills and positive social relationships. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, 2016) has been outspoken on this topic, continually recommending no or limited screen time for young children as “multiple developmental and health concerns continue to exist for young children using all forms of digital media to excess” (p. 3). In addition to citing concerns over harmful effects of media on children’s physical health – such as obesity (e.g., Jordan & Robinson, 2008; Robinson et al., 2017), decreased physical activity (e.g., Lacy et al., 2011), and sleep disruption (e.g., LeBourgeois et al., 2017; Magee, Lee, & Vella, 2014) – and emotional well-being – including anxiety and depression (Hoge, Bickham, & Cantor, 2017; James et al., 2017) – the AAP emphasizes the potential negative influence of digital media on children’s social and relational health, prioritizing unplugged, hands-on social play. Further, the AAP cautions parents against using screens to calm their children down, citing “concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation” (p. 4). Such fears are markedly pertinent in early childhood, as such skills and relationships during this time period have tremendous influences on children’s short- and long-term outcomes (e.g., Chetty et al., 2011; Conti, Heckman, & Pinto, 2016; Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015; National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2000).

With young children’s near ubiquitous access to mobile devices as well as their increased time spent using such technology (Huber, Highfield, & Kaufman, 2018; Ofcom, 2019; Rideout, 2017), understanding whether, how, and to what extent mobile media influences young children’s social health and development is critical. In the U.S., 98% of households with 0- to 8-year-olds have a mobile device, and children spend an average of 48 minutes a day using such devices (Rideout, 2017). Similarly, 19% of 3- to 4-year-olds and 42% of 5- to 7-year-olds in the U.K. have their own mobile device (OfCom, 2019), and in Australia, more than 25% of 2- to 8-year-olds use touchscreens daily (Huber et al., 2018a). Few studies exist, however, on the influence of mobile media on children’s general learning, and those that do favor academic outcomes or special student populations (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder; Herodotou, 2018). Others have begun to explore social outcomes in the home environment (e.g., Roseberry, Hirsh‐Pasek, & Golinkoff, 2014), but little is currently known regarding the ways in which mobile media may promote or prohibit social development in early childhood educational settings.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Developmentally-Appropriate Practice: early childhood education approach based on child development theories that accounts for a child’s age, developmental status, and individual differences to support and promote early learning and development in all domains (cognitive, social, emotional, behavioral, physical).

Social Skills: foundational competencies including communication, cooperation, social interactions and engagement with others.

Early Childhood Education: formal and informal educational programs/settings for children birth to age 8, including school-based (i.e., public and private pre-Kindergarten programs within a formal K-12 school system), center-based (i.e., for- or non-profit organizations not associated with a formal K-12 school system), and home-based childcare (i.e., providers care for 2 or more children in their home).

Intrinsic Barriers: personal limitations internal to educators related to attitudes toward the perceived value of technology, confidence using technology, and general pedagogical beliefs.

Extrinsic Barriers: structural limitations external to educators related to resources such as technology access, professional development, training, support, and time to learn/use technology.

Mobile Media: internet-enabled, interactive handheld technology devices (e.g., Smartphones, tablets) and associated platforms and software (e.g., apps) that can be used anytime, anywhere.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: