Young Children in the Digital Age: A Parent’s Guide

A report by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D.

One of the biggest challenges parents face today involves making decisions about appropriate screen and digital device use for their young children.

When I talk with parents these days, they often say that their children’s lives are very different from what their own childhoods were like.  Frequently, they name technology as the single biggest change in their kids’ lives—and in their own lives too. Many parents go on to say that
their children are on screens more than they want them to be, and that screen use is often a source of conflict with their children. Many express uncertainty about however they are letting their kids use screens, and a sense that they might be doing it “wrong.” I’m hoping that the ideas in this report will resonate in a positive way for readers by providing some helpful new information and support on this challenging topic—that’s my goal in writing this.

To help navigate this unfamiliar territory, DEY’s Co-Founder and Senior Advisor, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, has written this much-needed resource.

Based on six core ideas from the field of child development, the guide offers helpful new information and support for parents as well as real-life, specific suggestions that families can implement at home.

You can download the full report and guide. It is also available in Spanish.

Six Core Ideas
  1. Young children use their whole bodies and all of their senses to learn about the world.
  2. Young children learn from direct, first-hand experience in the real world.
  3. Young children learn from inventing ideas.
  4. Young children make sense of their world through play.
  5. Young children build inner resilience and coping skills through play.
  6. Children live and learn in a context of social relationships.
  1. Surround young children with opportunities to move and explore using their whole bodies and all of their senses.
  2. Provide young children with all kinds of objects to explore. And try to give them lots of opportunities for social interaction–remembering that kids grow cognitively, socially and emotionally as they actively engage with materials and people.
  3. Keep children away from screens in the fi rst two years of life as much as possible and keep screen use to a minimum throughout the early childhood years. When a child wants screen time, we can ask ourselves: “What is the potential of this activity for fostering imagination and/or social development? Is there a more beneficial, more fully engaging experience available for my child right now?”
  4. Try to provide a space (even a corner of a room in an apartment can work well) and uninterrupted time for children to play every day.
  5. Give children undefined materials (playdough, art materials, blocks and building materials, household objects) to play with that will encourage the deepest, most creative and expanded play possible.
  6. Try to pay conscious attention to our own use of mobile devices in the presence of children and try to set devices aside until later as much as possible.
  7. Try to make screen use with children a conscious choice and not one we turn to automatically.
  8. Try practicing the art of being fully present with children—giving them our full attention– even if it’s just for a few moments.
  9. Avoid using screens to occupy children or to distract them from difficult feelings or moments. Keep open-ended materials like playdough, markers and paper, building materials easily accessible.
  10. Be alert to the school environment children have and advocate for classrooms that engage kids through playful learning and allow them to follow their own curiosity rather than the didactic learning that is so widespread today.


See FairPlay’s webinar “Technology and Young Children,” featuring Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige below.