Lisa B. Hurwitz, Kelly L. Schmitt | Computers & Education
Educational policymakers are optimistic that providing young children access to technology can catalyze academic achievement and eventual positive labor market outcomes. However, possessing digital skill – or the ability to use technology effectively – might be necessary for young children to realize measurable benefits from the Internet. In the present longitudinal study, we explored whether Internet use and digital skill in early childhood predicted academic performance in middle childhood. We surveyed 101 US parents when their children were roughly 5 years and 11 years, collecting data on children’s Internet use, digital skill, and academic performance. Structural equation modeling revealed that children’s time online in early childhood was a marginally significant negative predictor of middle childhood academic performance, but digital skill in early childhood was a marginally significant positive predictor (ps < .1). Moreover, digital skill in early childhood indirectly influenced middle childhood academic performance via middle childhood digital skill. Early childhood digital skill significantly predicted middle childhood digital skill, which was significantly and positively associated with school performance. These findings suggest that allowing young children to engage with digital technologies for some amount of can be beneficial, provided that children use that time fruitfully to acquire digital skill.