Saturday, December 17th, 2011
In my review of the 6 most important studies of 2011, I selected the recent survey on kids’ screen time conducted by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media. This report provides very new data that tells us what we suspected – kids’ screen time keeps increasing even though the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to urge parents to try to stick to reasonable guidelines. One reason for this is that technology – especially mobile technology – is becoming more central to many people’s lives, including youth. Another reason is that stationary technology (like a TV and DVD) is becoming a staple in kids’ bedrooms. But the question remains: Is this a problem?
Here’s the thing that many of us are now worried about – do all the new options out there flood many kids with too many opportunities for screen time? And even disregarding content, is the ever-expanding volume of screen time going to inhibit other forms of cognitive development? I don’t have an answer to that question. But I admit, as someone who studies child development, I do have concerns. Even though I watched lots of TV growing up, and was pretty much unsupervised, I had a grand total of 6 channels to choose from as a kid (yes, this is before cable TV became a reality). There were no DVD players, and in fact no VCRs. (Okay, so by now you’ve figured out that I’m not exactly a young adult!). And I’ll state the obvious: we didn’t have home computers and hand-held devices and mobile phones. So after a while, you kinda ran out of options in terms of sitting in front of a screen.
But that’s not the case now. A great blog post by my fellow Parents.com blogger Allison Winn Scotch titled “Moderating Screen Time – What’s Okay, What’s Not?” touches on lots of the issues that most of us parents wrestle with. Allison mentions that, like me, she is somewhat liberal in terms of how monitors her kids’ screen time, in part because, like me, she “grew up watching bucketloads of the tube and still developed an avid love of books and reading, and still became (quite obviously) a writer.” But she is still trying to figure out what’s enough, and what’s too much, when it comes to her kids – as am I.
My only thought is that we – meaning those of us who offer advice on child development – may have it backwards when we talk about setting limits on screen time. Maybe we should be emphasizing the things we think kids should be doing, like reading at least 30 minutes a day, getting 30 minutes of exercise daily, and having devoted time every day for family talk without any devices on. As kids get older of course homework needs to be done. Let’s not forget that each kid needs to get a sufficient amount of sleep night after night so a consistent and appropriate bedtime needs to be upheld. Once all those conditions are met, then we don’t have to worry so much about how much time our kids spend looking at a screen.
Let’s face it, I’m not worried that kids aren’t learning how to read because of screen time. I’d just like to be sure that some young kid who could develop into a prolific writer like Allison (check out her bio here) can still develop a love of writing while living the life of a digital native.