The Parent’s Dilemma: Screen Time for Kids?

// Posted by on 04/03/2014 (4:53 PM)

This month’s Wired contained an interesting argument.  It’s article “The Parent’s Dilemma” asks whether “screen time” (like letting your kid use a tablet to watch a show or play games) is a bad way to parent.

“Leapster 1,” cc Belinda Hankins Miller

As a kid who was raised in front of a TV, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little personally invested in this argument.  Three kids and a single mom: you do the math.  The math ends with the TV and computer games.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to the article, advocates for no screen time before the age of two and two hours a day, at most, for older children, regardless of whether the screen time consists of learning games, Angry Birds,Sesame Street, or eBooks.

The question is: are all these screen-based activities equally passive or brain-melting?  The slightly terrifying risk is that, especially with the advent of touchscreens, the impact of these technologies on this generation of children will only be measurable after you take the parenting gamble of letting them or not letting them use the tech.  Mat Honan, the Wired writer behind this piece, seems pretty heavily in the Sherry Turkle camp that these technologies make us “more connected and more isolated at the same time” (68).

Coincidentally, this article comes pretty close to a recent change to the iTunes store to make in-app purchases more difficult, because many parents have had problems with their children making purchases while playing games on their phones or tablets.  Whether these activities are good or bad, they certainly carry a unique set of risks.  (Do you KNOW how quickly buying boosters in Pet Rescue adds up? I don’t. Of course not. Nope.)  Which means more and more parents ARE choosing to let their kids play with touchscreens.

Honan suggests moderation in letting parents decide how much screen time is too much for their kids.  Personally, I think the better question is what kind of activities the kids are doing.

Research has said for years that kids experience real benefits from watching certain kinds of shows or playing certain kinds of games.*  Not all “eyeball hours” are created equal, especially when it comes to stimulating a child’s brain.  We may not know exactly how this particular iteration will perform relative to computer learning games or children’s television shows, but it seems pessimistic to assume this new tech will be more detrimental than its predecessors.

Of course, no screen will ever be a substitute for hugging your kid or reading a bedtime story, but there’s always a difference between supplement and substitution.  And if a little screen time now frees you up for some quality physical time later, I’m not sure I see what all the panic is about.


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Cora said...

I think this dilemma is very relevant in our world and I agree with you, there is no simple answer. I do, however, tend to side with the “the less screen time the better” argument. It seems like no surprise when I go out to a meal and see a child fixated on a screen while their parent/parents are either having a conversation or on the phone themselves. Is this good? Probably not. Again, this tendency to distract kids with screens is not the end of the world but I do believe it is a poor substitute for human interaction, especially with a growing and curious individual. I think limiting screen time is very beneficial for a child’s intellectual and social development and should not be designated based on what activities the kids are doing. In my opinion, screen time is screen time, whether you are playing a “learning” game or not. Most apps today that kids enjoy playing are, sadly to say, brain-melting. Unfortunately, this trend of introducing our kids to technology and decreasing ages will only continue to become more common.

// 04/06/2014 at 4:56 pm

Eliza said...

I agree with Rachel’s argument and point of view that people should not be stressing so much over children playing on their devices or watching TV. Do I think that children under the age of 12 should be watching PG-13 TV shows, no, of course not, but if watching a documentary or an educational movie/show will assist their parents in preparing dinner or having some free time then great. Some of the iPad games children play today aren’t just for recreational use but they aid in the development and education of the child as well.
I can’t say I was one of those kids growing up that did not love watching TV, and used any chance I could to sit in front of it. I have seen my cousins grow up with the digital age at an ultimate high and I would not say they are isolated in anyway. I believe it is not a bad thing to have your children play games that are educational, if anything it could be beneficial.

// 04/07/2014 at 12:12 pm

Kevin said...

“Job No. 1 in elementary school is learning the rules of social engagement: how to make your way in the larger social group, how to make friends and be a friend, compete fairly, read social cues, and find your niche in the boy and girl cultures at your school. Doing so much of that through tech-mediated correspondence changes the playing field, significantly complicating the task.”

“Tech is Killing Childhood” by Catherine Steiner-Adair in Salon Magazine

I began this comment with this article because it sort of gives the flip-side to your argument. Think about the core of an electronic device: it is personal, it is your property, it is for your eyes, it is generally a solo experience. Does all of this sound like its good to be a constant part of a child’s development? I think Steiner-Adair raises some really good points in relation to what it means for a child to grow up at that age. You need to learn the basic principles of social interaction and how to live in a world with other people. This implies learning how to share, how to disagree without getting angry, how to wait in line, etc. When every individual child has their own personal iPad, iPhone, laptop, then they miss the opportunity to learn these very basic principles.

As Steiner-Adair discusses in the article, technology is naturally enticing, and small children are just as prone to be drawn to it as grown adults. However, their brains are not developed to the point where they can handle spending such large amounts of time with technology. If every four year old has their own laptop, then whose to say that they will ever truly learn how to play with each other properly, share, and communicate their feelings. Everyone looking at their own individual screen all day unfortunately eliminates that need.

Now I’m not trying to say that there is no place for technology in childhood development, but I do believe that we need to stay focused on what is really important in childhood development. Small children have the rest of their lives to learn how to interact with technology. In fact, chances are they will spend the rest of their lives heavily involved with technology. However, does that really mean that we should teach them how to use an iPad before they know how to share a toy?

Personally, I do not think so, and I agree with Steiner-Adair that we should try to limit the use of technology at young ages. However, knowing the way our world works, no parents will want their children to fall behind and be unfamiliar with technology as it becomes more and more heavily utilized in society. Thus, although I think it is dangerous, I believe that chances are children will begin using technology at increasingly young ages. Similar to the “technological divide” that we discussed, exposure to technology improves chances to succeed in this world, which I think will play a huge factor for parents despite the true developmental needs of young children.

// 04/07/2014 at 5:06 pm

Piper said...

I think one of the most important concepts that emerges from this article mirrors Turkle’s concern about how humans are passing off responsibility to robots: “We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship” (Turkle, Flight From Conversation). By parents giving their kids IPads and IPhones, it seems like they are hoping that these technologies can act as a “virtual babysitter,” to distract their kids while out to dinner or on plane trips. Just like the baby seals that are given to the elderly, the IPads and IPhones are used to keep the kids busy while their parents can enjoy some peace. I understand that, as a parents, those peace and quiet times are rare, but should parents be using these technologies as a crutch? I have been grappling with this idea because while it would be nice to take your kids out to meals without suffering with tantrums, I think that it is possible that too much screen time can hinder a child’s social skills, just like reliance on social media is arguably affecting adults’ social skills. Additionally, while it is pretty amazing that babies can navigate an IPhone, but not be able to speak properly, I think that too much screen time can impede a developing child’s ability to use his or her imagination and develop proper social skills. I do think that some learning apps can be useful in regards to counting and reading, I think that they should be used as supplements to a child’s learning, not replacements.

// 04/07/2014 at 10:16 pm

Molly said...

I think there is no right answer when it comes to children and technology. I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have HD TV’s, I pads and all this crazy technology because I do think life would be simpler, people would be happier, and there would be less pressure overall, on kids specifically. I feel like with technology and children, it’s almost a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. My fear is that if I didn’t allow my child to get acquainted with technological devices, they would fall behind their peers. Through my own personal educational journey over the past decade, I have watched technology rapidly become a central part in my educational experience (whether I liked it or not). Kids are expected to know how to use a computer, the internet, and windows programs in elementary school and be almost completely literate in computer far before middle school. Further, through babysitting (way too much might I add) in high school, I have seen how much television, games and other tools that influence a child’s learning and development have moved to incorporate technology and educational components. For instance, the channel “Noggin” is mostly an educational television channel geared to helping preschool/kindergarten aged children simultaneously learn while enjoying a cartoon. In these cases, I think it’s easy to say that technology is brainwashing our children, and I still think limiting screen time is ESSENTIAL, however I do feel like there are some benefits to technology, especially as networks evolve to make the experience both interesting and educational. I also think it’s not only a decision between how much time, but also what programs you are exposing them to and what “games” you allowing them to play. I definitely agree with Rachel’s point that there is a fine line between a supplement and a replacement.

// 04/15/2014 at 3:39 pm