Even in Silicon Valley, parents long for guidance about addressing young children’s use of tech

Kids around technology

Last year I conducted a series of conversation with parents throughout Silicon Valley to better understand findings from a study that SVCF’s Center for Early Learning conducted in 2016 on the use of technology with young children. 

The stories I heard truly highlighted the increasing importance technology plays in families’ lives. One young mother put it this way:

“My husband used to think internet is a luxury, but we realize that now it is a necessity. Everything from schoolwork, to looking for a job, to accessing medical records, to staying in touch with family that we don’t see…”

Yet, despite near universal access to a tech device, even in Silicon Valley, a digital divide still exists. Our study highlights disparities in access to high-quality technological environments between families that are low-income versus high-income. Lower-income families tend to experience significantly more technology challenges, such as home internet being cut off, home internet being slow, using outdated home computer systems and cell service being cut off.

Most of my conversations were in low-income neighborhoods, and I heard anecdote after anecdote of families’ struggle to access high-quality technological tools and services.

“With the higher cost of rent, we had to disconnect our [cell and internet] service.”

Another key highlight from the study was the need for resources to help parents identify educational and age-appropriate digital content and technology for their young children.

 “It’s easy to find and download apps, the problem is knowing where the good ones are and which ones are age-appropriate.”

Parents are looking for resources not just about content but also about strategies for how to use technology with their young children.

“Trying to have my 2-year-old understand why it’s important to stop using my phone after 30 minutes is impossible. What 2-year-old can control his emotions and just simply stop? It’s a nightmare. I need help with that.”

The most interesting thing for me about these conversations was that the parents were so thankful to simply have the conversation regarding tech use with their young children. When I asked why, one parent responded, “Just so we can talk and tell you what it’s like, and you can help more of us learn what we don’t know.”

As a parent of a 6-year-old and 9-year-old myself, I often feel the way these parents do as I try to offer my children guidance around the use of technology. I am torn between the necessity and promise of technology and the confusion and struggle of not having the time to truly research and test which programs and apps are appropriate.

With the current ubiquity of technology, it’s hard to remember that this world of tech devices and apps and programs for young children is still largely uncharted territory. There are many of us – myself included – who need help navigating our way through.

We at SVCF’s Center for Early Learning encourage Silicon Valley investors, educators, policymakers, researchers and app developers to explore strategies that will support families in this navigation. Their work should be designed to ensure that digital media and technology designed for young children promotes, rather than hinders, equity in school readiness and learning.

At SVCF, we are exploring the development of a parent resource similar to our “Are You Ready?” kindergarten readiness guide. We will be looking for partner funders for that project this year.

The Center for Early Learning offers a number of recommendations for educational app developers and distributors, school districts, policymakers and investors, which can be found, along with other key findings from our study, in our report, “Lost Connections in a World of Connectivity.”