The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop released the report Families Matter: Designing Media for a Digital Age (PDF file), documenting how digital technology is changing the rhythm of family life. The report finds that families are in a transition period, one in which parents recognize the importance of technology in their children’s learning and future success, but don’t always grant them access to the newer forms of media transforming their own adult lives.

The report profiles how parents’ personal experiences with media are one of the key factors shaping the approaches they take in guiding their children’s media consumption. A national survey of 800 parents of young children (ages 3-10) found that nearly two-thirds limit media consumption on a case-by-case basis. Of parents surveyed, 57% recognize that digital media presents ways for children to converse and connect with friends and family, but two-thirds of parents may restrict their children from chatting online and visiting social networking sites.

The study also revealed that only half of parents are playing with their kids on newer platforms such as video game consoles, opting to spend more time with their children engaged in more traditional activities including watching television, reading books and playing board games. More than half of parents are concerned about the effect of media usage on their children’s health, but fewer than 1 in 5 parents think their kids spend too much time with digital media. Other findings include:

  • · More than a third of parents have learned something technical from their child.
  • · Lack of exercise and online privacy are parents’ greatest concerns.
  • · The majority believes that video games help children foster skills that are important to their academic achievement.
  • · Rule setting peaks at age 7. Parents with children older than 7 are more likely to set parent controls on their computers.

Families Matter: Designing Media for a Digital Age also features in-depth family case studies of two families, probing how parent attitudes toward technology, along with family values, routines and structures, are shaping young children’s experiences using digital media.

The report offers recommendations to bolster the development of media content that can support learning and encourage adult-child interactions. Recommendations include:

  • · Tailor media platforms for children – Many media platforms are designed for adult use. Media producers should examine how the features of new platforms (e.g., 3-D, touchscreens) relate to children’s developing cognitive, social and physical capabilities.
  • · Investigate co-viewing for new media – Research shows that children learn more from television programs when they watch with a parent. Co-participation should be explored for video games, e-books, tablet devices and other media that will encourage adults to engage with children in activities to further enhance their learning.
  • · Foster teamwork – Digital media are often faulted for children spending less time socializing face-to-face with peers and family. Producers should design content that drives participants to interact and play together.
  • · Design for healthy development – Adults are concerned that digital media are superseding activities including outdoor exercise, imaginative play and socializing. Media producers should look to use technology to get children involved in these foundational activities.


“When it comes to digital media’s influence on children, the study found that the more things change, the more they stay the same,” said Dr. Michael H. Levine, Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “Kids need guidance to understand the critical skills and approaches to learning that are required in a ubiquitous media environment. It is essential that industry, researchers and policymakers understand that when it comes to promoting learning and positive social habits, families still matter most.”

Researched and written by Lori M. Takeuchi, Ph.D., the Cooney Center’s Director of Research, Families Matter: Designing Media for a Digital Age is available for download at


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