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Journal Issue: Children and Computer Technology Volume 10 Number 2 Fall/Winter 2000

Children and Computers: New Technology - Old Concerns
Ellen Wartella Nancy Jennings

Summary

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 well-being. 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 effects of media on children, and new partnerships must be forged between industry, academia, and advocacy groups.