I remember walking into my living room to find my 2-year-old tapping at the TV screen. ‘Don’t want this!’ he said. ‘Off.’ I had to explain to him that this screen was different – that we needed to turn it off with a button and not swipe and/or hit it to make it do what we want.
This kind of confusion is not uncommon these days, and it serves to draw a very clear line between those of us who were raised in the 20th century and those growing up in the 21st. Whether it’s shouting ‘Alexa, next!’ at the radio, or asking if they can ‘skip’ the adverts playing on live TV, our small children remind us every day of how much the world of media and media technology has changed over recent years – and is still changing.
When I grew up in the 1980s, things were very different. There were four TV channels. Children’s television ran for about 20 minutes at lunchtime and then a couple of hours in the afternoon. A ‘phone’ was a large plastic contraption that sat by the front door next to the key tray and Yellow Pages. If you looked ‘tablet’ up in a dictionary, you’d find written there a) something ancient civilisations used to write on and b) a sugary sweet from Scotland.
Fast forward thirty plus years and children’s TV is freely available every waking moment of the day on dedicated Freeview channels and streaming services. And our media habits are no longer limited to the telly in the living room. The birth of the internet, mobiles and tablets mean we can have TV, music and a whole range of new media at our fingertips, any time, any place. In fact, it’s so prevalent that recent research estimates our children will have spent 35,000 hours accessing the media by the time they’re 18. Put in context – that’s compared to 9,000 hours in school and 2,500 interacting with their parents.
As parents wanting to do the best by our kids, this brave new world of mass digital media can often seem like a daunting one to navigate. In particular we worry about the impact of screen time on our kids’ development, asking ourselves questions like, “At what age should I let my children watch TV? And for how long?” “Should I let them have their own tablet? If so, how do I stop them becoming glued to their gadgets?”
Our parental panic-reflexes might tell us we need to keep our kids from screens for as long as we can. But our common sense tells us that it’s just not possible. We are living in a digital world and, like it or not, our kids are digitally-minded kids.
What’s more, there’s so much to enjoy and celebrate out there: quality programming and exciting apps that stimulate and educate, helping young children experience a world of wonder in the way that books have done for generations before.
The big question, then, isn’t really around whether we let our kids consume media – that’s pretty much a given – but what they consume and how.
I’m part of the team at Little Worship Company, a brand-new Christian project creating high-quality, Biblically-based materials across a number of media platforms for children aged 0-7. As parents ourselves, it’s our heart to embrace the opportunities that 21st century digital technology offers to delight young children and support them as they take their first steps of faith.
There are four DVDs in Series 1 that take children on an inspirational journey through worship songs, simple singalongs and key Bible verses, hosted by some rather colourful puppets, the Looyahs. We’ve also created the Little Worship Company World app. Containing games and activities, songs, stories, Bible verses and prayers, it provides an exciting, safe and faith-filled space for children to discover the God who made, knows and loves them completely.
We don’t just want to create engaging content for children, but material that the whole family can enjoy and learn from together. So many of our concerns and angst around the media stem from the fact that we tend to think of it as a solo pursuit – something our kids are accessing by themselves in front of a TV or over a tablet. Perhaps this is because we’re often tempted to use the screen as a babysitter while we get on with other – always very pressing – things. (Don’t worry – we’ve all done it!)
But media at its best, be it TV, films or funny cat videos, brings us together – in laughter, tears or simply conversation. Our heart is to use media to help families discover God together. We’ve created a family devotional to accompany each DVD containing all-age reflections, conversation starters, prayers and follow on activities, so that all God’s children – big ones as well as little ones – can explore what it means to be known and loved by Him.
Written by Joe Watson.
For more information on Little Worship Company, visit https://littleworshipcompany.com/ Download the Little Worship Company World app for a free 7-day trial via Apple, Amazon and Google Play app stores.