|(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) via Quartz|
From a bucket of water to a bicycle, any tool can be used maliciously or marvellously, the same is true for screen time as it is for eating potatoes, they are both potentially very good for you, but not if that's all you do.
One big difference being that we don't see articles circulated from time to time on the web fretting about potatoes, framed in the frantic, panicked tones of a 21st Century crisis, which we do about screen time, articles like this*.
In the face of opinions like that, some would ask how on earth we can justify all the iPads we provide for our young learners in the Infant school, 2:1 in K1, and an iPad for every child in K2, Grade 1 and Grade 2. The problem is these articles that expect us to 'ban' our students from screen use, generally make the mistake of burying alternative perspectives, and are usually founded on a dubious judgement back in the 20th Century (1999), by the American Academy of Pediatrics that discouraged television viewing for children younger than 2, citing research on brain development that showed this age group’s critical need for “direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers.” They have since updated their report, acknowledging that things have changed significantly since their original judgement, however they still unfortunately, and impractically uniformly discourage passive media use, on any type of screen, for young children.
What I'd like to do here is just to provide some balance to the argument, sure the AAP have their opinion, but there are plenty of other respected, and I would argue more reasonable and more practical perspectives regarding screen time out there, below I share just a handful. If you know of any others, please feel free to post them in the comments below.
Lumping all screens into one category is not helpful. "Screen time is a really enticing measure because it's simple – it's usually described as the number of hours a day using screen-based technology. But it's completely meaningless," says Pete Etchells at Bath Spa University, UK, who studies the effects of video games on behaviour. "It doesn't say anything about what you're using that time for."
The challenge for parents and teachers, Robb says, “is to select the videos, games, and devices that have a real, positive developmental impact—and use them in ways that promote growth.”
What is becoming clear is that it's not the technologies themselves we should be worried about, but how they are used and how people interact with them. The advantages seen in the school environment can be translated into the home – if you choose your children's digital distraction wisely.
A lot of it is common sense. Don't unthinkingly hand over your device. There are educational apps whose benefits are backed up by research.
Five hours sitting in front of the TV is not the same as 5 hours of some TV, a couple of hours playing on Dance Dance Revolution or some other kind of active game, followed by a Skype session with a grandparent.
But such traditional passive TV watching, while still the dominant form of media consumption for most children, is rapidly becoming meaningless for many. Clearly, an interactive video game that parents and toddlers are playing together or watching family vacation videos on a smartphone can have huge value compared to zombie-like staring at an episode of Spongebob—these kinds of shows are shown in studies to harm a young child’s executive functioning, a prefrontal brain skill set including memory, attention, and setting goals.
Not all screens are equal, and guidelines need to be updated to reflect these differences.
The policy also doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground: a recent survey of parents by Common Sense Media shows that toddlers under two are spending almost one hour a day using screen media anyway.
I still generally agree with most of the AAP’s family media plan advice, especially no TV ever in bedrooms and no screens at certain times of the day, including during meals, and screen time limits depending on age. With children under two, I definitely believe that screen time should never be spent alone: kids always benefit more from any activity when parents are playing along.
Technological competence and sophistication have not, for parents, translated into comfort and ease. They have merely created yet another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them.
April 2010, when the iPad was released. iPhones had already been tempting young children, but the screens were a little small for pudgy toddler hands to navigate with ease and accuracy. Plus, parents tended to be more possessive of their phones, hiding them in pockets or purses. The iPad was big and bright, and a case could be made that it belonged to the family. Researchers who study children’s media immediately recognized it as a game changer.
And last but not least, eventually even the APP had to concede the need to change:
Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning.
Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
Touch screens change everything...Previously, young children had to be shown by their parents how to use a mouse or a remote, and the connection between what they were doing with their hand and what was happening on the screen took some time to grasp. But with the iPad, the connection is obvious, even to toddlers. Touch technology follows the same logic as shaking a rattle or knocking down a pile of blocks: the child swipes, and something immediately happens. A “rattle on steroids,” is what Buckleitner calls it. “All of a sudden a finger could move a bus or smush an insect or turn into a big wet gloopy paintbrush.” To a toddler, this is less magic than intuition. At a very young age, children become capable of what the psychologist Jerome Bruner called “enactive representation”; they classify objects in the world not by using words or symbols but by making gestures—say, holding an imaginary cup to their lips to signify that they want a drink. Their hands are a natural extension of their thoughts.
* If you're going to read that article, make sure you read these two responses to it as well:
Critical literacy will help readers navigate through broad claims that appear to be scientific in nature, but actually misrepresent facts and findings. Outlets such as The Huffington Post can provide important, accessible, and digestible information to parents as they try to navigate this complex world.
The research cited in the Rowan piece is so unsupportive of her claims, it seems possible that the real motive behind the article was to test the reader's gullibility. If readers had dug a little deeper, they'd find the truth.
The research focuses mainly on passive television consumption and video games that are either simple or for mature audiences. Much of it also is focused, not on pre-teens, but rather on teens and adults. The research shows a dearth of findings around the type of technology use in which the overwhelming majority of children engage.
Discerning educators and parents: Take a look at the research. Decide for yourself.