To plug or unplug

In preparation of presenting my first Storytime with apps, and for parent presentations, I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of a screen. I’ve been reading about apps and iPads pluggedand digital literacy and screen time and the proper use of said screens. I’ve been soaking up Tweets from educators, reading articles, ordering recommended books. I’ve been trying out apps and looking for apps that will be beneficial to children, teens, and parents.  In short, I’ve been pretty plugged in for the past few months. My eyeballs are sore. My brain hurts. And then I started seeing the media blast about Screen Free Week, April 29-May 5.  This board on Pinterest keeps popping up with ideas and posters as I am browsing through and adding apps.

Needless to say, I am experiencing an internal conflict! I love the Unplug movement. I fully agree that reading or spending plenty of time outdoors is a good balance with indoor screen time.  I just spent a self-enforced online-free weekend (and it was easier than I thought it would be, though I did miss Twitter a teeny bit).  Yes, balance is essential. How to impart this to busy parents? How to convince the Mom who has been bamboozled by her child into loading every Barbie and My Little Pony app she can find?  It is hard enough to personally create that balance, so how do we help parents? Information is my first answer. Give them information! Even if parents are not asking you for information about apps, you can make it easy for them to find it. I’ve written posts on our library blog, developed some Pinterest boards, and gathered resources on the parent page on our website. I stress the importance of parental engagement during my presentations and at storytimes. These are my baby steps into corralling digital media information. How are you managing it?


  1. Sarah

    I really love the information you are providing to parents. I have been thinking of doing something similar. I’m also in the investigating stage of apps in storytimes. How are you planning on doing it?

  2. Kathy K

    You raise very important points. Clearly, children and families are at the center of your concerns and that is exactly where we need to be.

    I think we all experience a certain amount of strain or “zombie effect” from all the screen time in our lives. Taking breaks, setting limits, being mindful of balance, being mindful of what truly makes us feel healthy and happy all help.

    The thing is, much screen use by adults meets functional needs for us or are at least very useful. However, screen time doesn’t meet any needs that a developing child has. None. It offers no added value. Screens don’t add anything to a child’s life that they can’t get from other sources except possible problems with sleep, attention or obesity. (The research isn’t in yet, but I will go out on a limb and suggest that they detract from adult-child relationships also. That’s just what I see: less talking, less “rich” talking, more passivity, lots of solitary use of devices.) These are risks associated with children and screen use. We don’t know how apps support or detract from specific literacy skill development. And they they should be measured against the book and other materials. We should be encouraging what we know is best, not just acceptable, I think. Without knowing that, we don’t have any ground to stand on in promoting them to children that I can see.

    I believe our primary purpose is literacy development and we should do that as well as we can and that requires an evidence-based approach. Apps have not cut the mustard. I can’t find one pediatrician or one child development specialist or one brain scientist or one authoritative educator that recommends apps. They just don’t. Because they have no reason to. So they, responsibly, don’t recommend or encourage them. It is pretty clear to me that a child is simply better off without them until there’s research saying otherwise. That day may come. It isn’t here yet. I have no problem with that reality. In terms of what benefits children, I don’t know what motivates one to promote screen use for children age 0-5. I keep reading the blogs and journals and reports and haven’t found the case for doing so. Could it just be commercialism?

    To me, that was what Lisa Guernsey’s book was about: how children and families can cope with the intractable culture of technology/media consumption. I think libraries can do better.

    If we do all we can to encourage solidly healthy activities that support child development, risk-free, that would be tremendous. Maybe even heroic.

    Thank you for this post, Angela.

    1. Kristin

      Thank YOU, Kathy K!!!

  3. Angela Reynolds

    Well, there are actually some early childhood educators who think that using technology, correctly, and in an appropriate manner, can be beneficial. It IS a new idea, and one that will likely be a point of discussion for quite some time. Here’s a book that might have some tips: Digital Decisions: Choosing the Right Technology Tools for Early Childhood Education by Fran Simon and Karen Nemeth-

    1. Fran Simon, M.Ed.

      Thank you for the reference!

  4. Kathy K

    Both authors of Digital Decisions have a commercial interest in apps.

    1. Fran Simon, M.Ed.

      Hi Kathy:

      I am a Co-Author of Digital Decisions: Choosing the Right Technology Tools for Early Childhood Education, and I assure you that neither Karen Nemeth, my Co-Author, nor I have ever received any compensation from any app designed for use by children. We purposely do not review apps on our site.

      As a matter of fact, if you check out my posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or my blogs or read any of the articles I have published, you will see that I am, extremely conservative about apps and often lament over-reliance on apps as “teaching” tools. I call it “appmainia”, and I use the term to urge educators to be intentional and responsible about their selection of technology tools. If you attend any of my presentations, you will hear me talk about how inappropriate most commercial apps are for young children. You will also hear me cite a few shining examples of appropriate apps, but I have never been paid for those references, and in fact, don’t even know the developers.

      It’s irresponsible to accuse responsible educators of “commercialism” without any basis for your claim.

      Fran Simon

  5. Kathy K


    According to the Amazon bio, Karen Nemeth has developed an app and it is available for purchase on iTunes. You have a private business devoted to promoting technology use to children which is different from being devoted to what is best for children. That business includes promoting apps as you have just clarified.

    According to this information, you both have a commercial interest in apps. My comment was neither false nor irresponsible.

  6. Karen Nemeth

    Hi, everyone. I know you are a group who likes to read – so I’ll just share with you some of the positions, studies, books, and articles I’ve read by the many early education leaders and doctors who recommend apps and other interactive media as one of the many tools that can support developmentally appropriate learning experiences in early childhood. My own app is just a translation app for teachers.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics statement talked about watching TV for entertainment and did not address play or creation with apps. Read here:

    Top experts at NAEYC spent 3 years developing their recommendations and the resources to support:

    Here are websites that Fran and I offer to the field, in case you want to get to know us without jumping to conclusions:

    Study on learning value of ebooks:
    The esteemed Fred Rogers Center resources for using tech with young children, including the apps they have developed:

    Research on the impact of Tech installed in library in low income area – by top literacy and early learning author:
    Examples of the many conferences where early childhood educators and researchers get together to share about using apps with young children:

    Some new books by well-known early educators:

    1. Angela Reynolds

      Karen, thanks for all those resources. Plenty to think about and absorb!

    2. Tess P.

      I am working on a conference presentation with two other librarians for British Columbia Library Association and want to provide a great “take-away” list of current, relevant resources on this topic, so this list will be very helpful. Thanks so much!

  7. Suzanne Flint

    As a child development specialist and health educator, I share your concerns, Kathy (and I think Angela does as well). I think you both care about children and families, and I commend you both for commencing a dialogue that can hopefully help the library profession better grapple with this complex issue that impacts children and families. Rather than striving to make one perspective ‘wrong’ and another perspective ‘right’ however I hope this dialogue can explore how these two perspectives might both inform how the library profession can best respond to the current world reality in which we live….and how we can best support the health and development of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens within that reality. I don’t think Angela is suggesting that librarians ‘push’ media consumption…instead she seems to be suggesting that they can be a powerful source for enlightening parents about the very concerns you have enumerated (and which have been outlined in the Media Guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics)…needing to limit media consumption, the importance of human interactions, and tools that parents can utilize that will help their children navigate the media intense world that surrounds them. Demonizing something, however, has never been an effective way to encourage an informed response. What I think Angela is suggesting is also in keeping with these same AAP guidelines: “Media is everywhere. TV, Internet, computer and video games all vie for our children’s attention. Information can help parents understand the impact media has in our children’s lives, while offering tips on managing time spent with various media. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should monitor their media diet. Parents can make use of established ratings systems for shows, movies and games to avoid inappropriate content, such as violence, explicit sexual content or glorified tobacco and alcohol use.” Isn’t this what’s really being suggested? That librarians could be that resource for parents…helping them to monitor, guide and, yes, limit their children’s media diet? If we can offer them nothing about how to make wise media choices and how to wisely consume media with their children when they do, are we really a relevant parenting resource?

    For the complete AAP Media Guidelines go to:

  8. KathyK

    Hi Suzanne and all,

    I am confident, knowledgeable (and very happy) about educating children and parents about early literacy skill development. I mostly credit ALA and the ECRR initiatives for this. They have given me much support, clear guidance and access to the research that it is based on and I find no shortage of books, articles and experts that validate my work.

    Suzanne, I have nothing remotely close to that with regard to screen based content.

    I do feel it is my job to actively, respectfully, positively, and effectively educate parents, at appropriate opportunities, about early literacy skill development but not about screen time and media use. I have no confidence in promoting screen use to children age 0-5. As a librarian, I am certainly able and willing to provide parents resources about media use and I would direct them first to the AAP guidelines. But only if they ask. If we are to take more of an activist role with screen use, our profession must identify and understand a child-centered research foundation for doing that first. We do not have that now.

    My concern has been and continues to be that I know and do what I understand to be best for children. When we give tablets to children or use tablets with children, aren’t we promoting screen time? I think we definitely are and that is very different from being a resource to parents or informative. Why would we do that? Reports tell us that many children are getting screen time in excess of the AAP guidelines. How do we know we aren’t adding to a child’s already unhealthy conditions? The idea of “modeling behavior” doesn’t hold water for me. We haven’t done that with television and I don’t understand why we should treat tablets differently. These are critical questions that need full discussion. I commend you, Suzanne, in engaging in this dialogue. I am more hopeful now that the needed discussions might develop from this. I have heard several librarians say that this topic is controversial, that there is a continuing debate or as Angela says, it is a point of discussion. But actually, there is no meaningful, serious discussion. More than once, the topic has quickly devolved to “Here are some links…”

    Finally, but not least, it worries me very much that virtually all of the reports available about children and technology lack a good comparative analysis. Of all the materials and activities available toward the development of children, how does screen time or any particular use of screen time rate? Shouldn’t this be central to how we comprehend technology’s impact on children and how we, and how librarians choose to use the sparse time and limited resources we have with children and their caregivers and shouldn’t parents know this when they are making choices for their children? It seems like children and technology are being studied and reported on in a vacuum and that will distort our view of it.

    What do you think about these points I make?

    1. Tess P

      What I think is that research does not actually, in reality, work the way you wish it to Kathy. Digital tech is now ubiquitous in the Western world and doing comparative analysis between children who have various quantities and types of screens with children who do not have any screens would never, even in the best study ever designed, be able to actually provide what you seem to want, which is I think is causation. The two groups of children would have too many differences to control for in order to prove absolute causation.

      At this time, I think it much more valuable for librarians to consider the affordances of sociocultural research in early literacy, some of which contends with the digital age. This research tends to be qualitative / interpretive, and by no means gives anyone a complete picture of anything, but hardly any research does that anyway. However, considering how contemporary families support their children’s development in their early years and exploring ways that practitioners (teachers, librarians etc) can support parents is an important aspect of early childhood literacy research. I hope that much more research continues to be done within early childhood contexts: homes, daycares, preschools, libraries and communities. Those of us who are focussed on services for children in their early years can all learn a great deal from diverse research that examines the current realities of early childhood, including its intersections with digital technology.

  9. Fran Simon, M.Ed.


    I don’t want to dive further into this discussion except to correct you (yet again) on your claims that my Co-Author and I have commercial interests in apps. Karen’s app is for teachers to use, not children. I have nothing to do with apps. I don’t sell anything except a study guide and a book for use by administrators, and my primary work is in another aspect of early childhood education. Karen’s primary work is in supporting Dual Language Learners. We both have advance degrees in the field and are well-renowned for our work and support of NAEYC and Developmentally Appropriate Practice.

    I encourage healthy and informed dialog. I participate heavily on social media, so I believe in this discourse, but I strenuously object to statements that are patently false and easily proven so with just a tiny bit of online digging. I object to discussions that are so ill-informed when there is so much evidence to the contrary, and resent your inappropriate and unsubstantiated claims about me and my Co-Author. Say whatever you want about technology, but I respectfully request that you stop making false claims about me or my Co-Author.

    1. Tess P.

      Thank you for speaking up Fran, it is so important to me that children’s librarians are part of the early childhood world. It is so important that we serve what I like to call “actual” childhood. Understanding that digital technology is now part of an “actual” (and, in this discussion, Westernized) early childhood is important for our profession to understand, and be comfortable interrogating, critiquing and dealing with all the ambiguity therein. Idealized (dare I say fetishized?) notions of a screen-free, and otherwise ideal early childhood are not really practical in this “actual” world. However, we can do our best to support families as they make what they consider to be the best decisions on how to raise their children, without judgement. The public library profession, along with other early childhood entities such NAEYC and early childhood researchers etc, all have a part to play in this support. I really believe that. So, thank you for participating here.

      1. Angela Reynolds

        Tess, thanks for your comments. I love the idea of “actual” childhood– the difference between what we (librarians, early childhood educators) think an ideal early childhood experience should be and the one that most children are actually having is likely a big one. My intent is to help parents find apps that will give their child skills that help them be ready for school (and for those who are just staring school, to help them be better readers). My intent when using the iPads is to model developmentally appropriate use of technology, in hopes that the “actual” life can be enhanced with the best apps that are out there. I do not use this technology in a vacuum — I use it in conjunction with all the other tricks I have in my early literacy bag…

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