What is it like to be a small child surrounded by media?

In the current age, small children are born into a world full of media. This is why media education should be considered early on in families, preferably before the child is born. How is media and different devices part of our everyday lives? How is our family’s digital wellbeing? How to mind the baby or the toddler while using media yourself? Rauna Rahja, Planner at the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, reflects on this question, and on what the Finnish Safer Internet Centre is doing in this regard.

2021-02-18 Finnish Safer Internet Centre awareness media literacy/education parents and carers
Toddler looking at a phone screen their parent holds for them

Digital wellbeing means the social, mental, and physical wellbeing in an everyday environment, where digital appliances and services bring both various benefits and challenges. Even though small babies do not yet use or need digital media themselves, they live in a digitised reality through their family members’ uses.

Everyone of us has a need to be heard, seen, and to feel cared for. This applies to the digital age too, which has transformed our social relationships and interactions. Many of us know how it feels to be left on the sidelines when technology sticks to one’s own or someone else’s fingers. How would the same situation look to a baby or a toddler?

Though adults do not always notice, even a small child follows the parents’ actions closely and learns by example. The one-year old who uses a remote controller in an attempt to call their grandmother does not take the ideas for their first media play from nothing. Recognising one’s own digital habits and verbalising the situations when using media helps the child to understand them.

When a toddler notices a teddy bear on a children’s TV show, bolts to get a storybook about bear cubs, and starts making bear-like sounds, media has had its role in producing one fuzzy insight about the world. By verbalising positive actions with media, the adult can strengthen the child’s positive media usage.

Aside from providing presence, early interaction, and safety, the parent supports the child’s developing media skills. A small child’s understanding and self-regulation are not yet sufficient for using media alone. The smartest way to approach media for a small child is little by little, and most importantly, together with an adult.

During Media Literacy Week 2021 (the Finnish version of Safer Internet Day) Mannerheim League for Child Welfare encouraged parents and other educators to ponder digital media and interactions in the family from the small children’s point of view with a new, versatile website. The MLL’s site “Vauvana ja taaperona digiajassa” features articles, exercises, podcasts, and videos by professionals, which also support those working with families with children.

Find out more about the work of the Finnish Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

Related news