Voices on the Future of Childhood

As we hunker down and shelter ourselves in place to confront yet another day of what we hope is a temporary situation, we can’t help but wonder about the future. What will life be like afterwards? What will return to normal and what will be forever changed as a result of the pandemic? And what will the future hold for our children?

The Cooney Center began the exercise of not just wondering, but actively mapping out ideal futures for children and families well before COVID-19 became part of our daily lexicon. In November 2018, we kicked off our Future of Childhood Initiative with a national convening that focused on the potential (and pitfalls) of immersive media use among young children, followed by a January 2019 launch of the Future of Childhood Research Consortium, which aims to outline research agendas around the most urgent issues at the intersection of child development and technology.

Today, the future feels much closer to now than it did when we kicked off the initiative. We believe it’s more urgent than ever to proactively plan for what we want for our children in both the near and longer term.

But where to start? We invited a handful of the Cooney Center’s most trusted advisors to lay out their “aspirational but achievable” (to borrow a phrase from Alan Gershenfeld) visions of the future of childhood and to offer the field some immediate directives to help us get there. The individuals we’ve assembled for this feature, which will roll out over the coming weeks and months, hail from universities, hospitals, media production companies, educational nonprofits, high tech, and public media, with other sectors to come.

Admittedly, the timing of this inquiry—now, in the Spring months of 2020—is somewhat arbitrary, as life even one week (much less one month, or one year) from now may be very different. But part of the exercise is to mark the state of things today for later reflection: a year from now, we should be able to look back to see what progress, if any, we’ve made. In retrospect, some of our experts’ directives and visions may well have missed the mark in light of what would later unfurl. But we may also have the satisfaction of looking back and seeing that some of the stated problems that needed fixing actually got fixed. Or, that someone’s aspirational vision for the future was actually achieved. As such, we have intended this feature to be an exercise in action, creativity, and hope.

Each installment features experts’ responses to a specific question about the immediate or longer-term future of childhood as it relates to COVID-19.


Part 1: One thing that must be done now – April 7, 2020
For Part 1 of this series, we asked experts, “What is one thing you believe must be done now to improve how children and families are faring during the current crisis, specifically as it relates to the media and technology in their lives?”

S. Craig WatkinsDebra Sanchez | Jenny Radesky | Karen Cator | Maria Alvarez
Michael H. Levine | Ralph Smith | Rosemarie Truglio | Vikki Katz


Part 2: What will change as a result of the pandemic – April 14, 2020
For Part 2 of this series, we asked experts to take a stab at predicting the future by offering their thoughts on “What will change in the coming months and/or years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Alan Gershenfeld | Caroline Hu Flexer | David Kleeman | Jeremy Bailenson
Matthew Kam | Michael Rich | Mimi Ito | Warren Buckleitner


Part 3: The Future of Play – May 6, 2020
In this third installment of the series, we asked experts, “How will childhood play change in the coming months and/or years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?”

Bo Stjerne Thomsen | Helen Hadani | Jill Vialet | Kathy Hirsh-Pasek | Kathryn E. Ringland
Makeda Mays Green | Roger Hart | Ronda Jackson | Rosanna Lopez


Part 4: The Future of Digital Play – May 21, 2020

For the fourth part of this series, we asked experts to focus their predictions on digital play by answering the question, “How will the way children play with digital media change in the coming months and/or years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?”

J. Alison Bryant | Andrew Przybylski | Jesse Schell | Jordan Shapiro
Juan Rubio | Katie Salen Tekinbaş | Mitchel Resnick | Tami Bhaumik


Part 5: Back to School – June 9, 2020

For Part 5, we asked experts to reflect on the coming school year and to consider the following questions: “What human, organizational, and/or technological infrastructures do we need to put into place to support sustained periods of learning at home and/or more frequent handoffs between teachers and caregivers over the course of the school year?  To what or whom do we need to pay closer attention as we plan for the reopening of schools? What might we be overlooking?”

Akimi Gibson | Elisha Smith Arrillaga | Esther Wojcicki | Gregg Behr
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin | Molly McMahon | Robert Tom Kalinowski | Tom Liam Lynch


Part 6: Diversity, Belonging, and Racial Justice – June 18, 2020

For Part 6 of this series, we turned our attention to race and racism. We asked our experts to share their thoughts on these issues according to the following questions: “What is your vision for the future of childhood? What are you doing in your professional capacity to achieve that vision, and/or who needs to do what to achieve that vision?”

Christy Crawford | Jordan Taitingfong | Mariana Díaz-Wionczek | Martez E. Mott
Pablo MirallesRahsaan Harris | Stanley Pierre-Louis | Vicki Ariyasu


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