Key Issues in Early Childhood and Technology from Thought Leaders

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The following was written by Chip Donohue, PhD, Founding Director of TEC Center at Erikson Institute

My most recent book, Exploring Key Issues in Early Childhood and Technology: Evolving Perspectives and Innovative Approaches (2020), is a collection of essays about young children and technology written by 17 thought leaders and innovators from the U.S., Great Britain, Scotland, Norway, Israel and Australia. The authors bring deep knowledge of:

  • child development
  • early childhood education
  • teacher education
  • parent engagement
  • informal learning
  • media literacy
  • children’s rights
  • designing children’s media
  • pediatrics
  • and public policy
  • among many other fields

Collectively, the authors share a commitment to child development first, technology second.

Each author was asked to write a 2,000 word essay about what is known and still needs to learned about young children and technology through the lens of their own experience, work, research as well as their fears and hopes for the future. Each essay is a personal reflection by the author on what they’ve learned, what they’re working on now, where their work will go in the future and what they believe the intersection of young children and technology should look and feel like.

The concept of “screen time” has become meaningless in a world where screens bring entertainment, learning, discovery, communication, play, creation and more.
– David Kleeman, 5 Things that Haven’t Changed (Much)

Lessons Learned from thought leaders

The contributing authors have reflected on what they have learned and shared their visions of what is needed to best support young children, families and educators in the digital age. Lessons learned include:

  1. Focus on children’s rights and reduce risks – give children choice and agency and pay careful attention to digital literacy, online privacy, cyber safety, bullying and ethical design through the lens of rights
  2. Protect children’s data – children need the adults in their lives to keep them safe from unethical data practices including discoverability, collection, extraction, manipulative practices, behavioral advertising, contextual ads and attention harvesting
  3. Promote adult digital literacy and media mentorship – encourage conscious reflection on adult media behaviors, and the impact on children of our digital distractions, “parenting without presence” and quality of engagement
  4. Make sure your pedagogy informs the use of technology tools, not that technology informs pedagogy
  5. Inform the research agenda about what we already know and what we still need to learn, connect research to practice and strengthen your research literacy
  6. Adopt evidence-based and developmentally informed classroom practices for effective integration of tech tools
  7. Reimagine teacher preparation, professional development and connected learning for the digital age

…we view digital literacy as a social practice in which children engage in meaning-making practices in order to express themselves and communicate with others.
– Jackie Marsh, University of Sheffield, UK, Makerspaces in the Early Years: Enhancing Digital Literacy and Creativity

Why Children Need Us to be Their Media Mentors

In my work around young children and technology with early childhood educators, I have learned that educators often feel ill-equipped and under prepared to help young children and their families safely navigate the digital age. As many authors shared in their essays, early childhood educators must be empowered to take on the role of media mentor for families and children by focusing on what they do know and can do, not on what they still have to learn.

Mobile technology has made us the first generation of parents to be physically far from our grown children, but we have the capacity to be psychologically closer.
– Warren Buckleitner, Childhood 2040 – A Wishlist

One more nudge about adult digital behavior

If we want these tools, and the time children spend using them, to support healthy child development and early learning, then we also need to reflect on and confront the powerful influence adults have as media role models and mentors – for better or worse. We each need to be aware of our own media behavior and habits and then help avoid “parenting without presence” and instead emphasize parenting that is tuned-in, attentive and present.

…without conscious reflection about parents’ own relationships with their mobile devices, it will be difficult to ask parents to become the media mentors for their children we hope they will be.
– Jenny Radesky, Mobile Media and Parent-Child Interaction

In the process of editing this book and presenting key issues and evolving perspectives on behalf of the authors, I‘ve come to realize we all need thought leaders who can help us navigate the intersection of child development, early learning and children’s technology. We need to find our inner thought leader so we can effectively support families, educators, and colleagues.


more Powerful Ideas and Innovative Approaches you can find in the book
  • Technology that is designed for connections
  • Parenting in the digital age
  • Family engagement
  • Media mentors
  • Access, diversity and equity
  • Children’s rights
  • Ethical design
  • When tech disappears
  • Digitizing childhood
  • Digital play
  • Personalized education
  • Coding as another language
  • Our digital environment


Please use the following citation for reference:

Donohue, C. (2020, March 6). Key Issues in Early Childhood and Technology from Thought Leaders. TEC Center at Erikson Institute. Retrieved from


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Where I turn to find my thought leaders


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