1-800-225-0863 | steven@blockins.net         

The Screen Time Debate

Much has been made lately about limiting children's screen time (time spent watching television or playing on the computer). The conventional wisdom being "the less time, the better", but is this really the case?

Lisa Guernsey of the New America Foundation offers us some insights into current research on the matter in her book Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age 5.

Guernsey tells us that we can not just focus on the amount of time spent in front of the screen, but on what she and other researchers refer to as the three C's; content, context and the individual child.

The content—what is portrayed on screen—makes a significant difference in whether children learn from what they see. according to numerous studies on toddlers, preschoolers and elementary school children.

The context—what is happening around the child while viewing, as well as the extent to which screen time dominates a child's daily routine also makes a difference. Guernsey urges us to remember that every child comes to media or technology with their own needs and interests and that these can either be nurtured or crushed, depending on how the media is used.

A 5-year-old watching 30 minutes of "Power Rangers," which is considered by most experts to be too aggressive for young children, may be worse off than a child watching "Between the Lions" for an hour. And a child with some delays in language or literacy skills may get even more out of the "Lions" show than another child. Add in parent interaction—the presence of someone asking him questions about what he saw on screen or sparking his interest in a particular concept or story—and that hour could be really well spent.

Guernsey believes there are many questions that need answering before any blanket statements on how much screen time is optimal can be answered. Among the questions she urges researchers to examine are:

What kind of cognitive and socially meaningful activities are involved? Do they talk about the shows or games afterward, and does anyone encourage those conversations, modeling how to ask questions or explain what they've learned? Who is with them? And what are the games or shows replacing for different groups of children? Are kids being deprived of moments of lively, unstructured play (which research shows is important for normal child development) or is screen time taking the edge off an incredibly stressful time of day when parents might otherwise be yelling and snapping at their children?

Guernsey believes research on technology and screen media should be modeled after nutritional research by looking at subgroups of populations, particular types of content and the interplay of family dynamics, among other things. She feels the federal government should be helping to fund large longitudinal studies, and that scientists independent of industry should build and expand interdisciplinary studies and experiments that examine short and long-term effects of different media under multiple conditions with different types of populations.

She also offers some surprising data on how minority kids are accessing screens. African American children are spending more time reading (or being read to) than white children—even as they also spend 30 more minutes a day watching TV than white children, according to survey data released by Common Sense Media in October. Their total reading time is about 41 minutes a day, while white children are spending 29 minutes a day reading or being read to. That runs contrary to conventional wisdom that equates more TV time with less reading time, and it also begs the question of why African American fourth-graders, on average, do worse than white fourth-graders on national reading tests.

The research on adult-child interactions shows that children learn how to communicate and, in the long run, how to read, by engaging with "social partners"—people engage them in back and forth conversations. Moments of "joint attention" around a particular object help too.

We need to learn a lot more about the quality of both the screen time and the reading time that children experience. Are today's parents able to make time to help their children with reading or to talk with them about the media they watch or play?

As a care giver, remember the three C's. Look for age-appropriate and high-quality content (a visit to the ParentsChoice.org website will provide lists of great books, games, toys and music). Imagine the context in which it will be used and be prepared to set some rules or parameters on how much or when. And think about what the individual child is inspired by and might want to learn more about.

One thing seems apparent in Guernsey's and everyone else's research, and that is whether we are talking about reading, TV or play - children thrive and benefit from interaction and conversation. The more you engage them, the more they learn.
Are You Managing Your Risk? Get A Quote

Please be advised that information contained in this site may be dated. No insurance coverage can be bound, deleted, modified or in any other manner effected through this website. Complete information regarding coverage and exclusions can be found in policy documents. The information contained in this website is summary in nature.