For years, parents and pediatricians fretted over how much screen time was too much, especially for very young children. Many child health experts advised minimal screen time for elementary-aged kids and none at all for children younger than 2. New research, a revised policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the personal experience of millennial parents who grew up in the digital age, have changed the way parents view screen time for youngsters.
“Research now shows us that not all screen time is equal,” says Barbara Peacock, managing director of School Zone Inc., a recognized leader in creating innovative multimedia learning tools to prepare children for a lifelong love of education who recently launched AnywhereTeacher.com, a “Digital Educational Playground” for kids 2-8. “Everyone agrees it’s important for children to maintain healthful levels of physical activity, but studies also show educational screen time can be an effective way to supplement children’s learning. As the American Academy of Pediatrics recently noted, ‘the effects of media use are multi-factorial and depend on the type of media, the type of use, the amount and extent of use, and the characteristics of the individual child.”
The AAP and other child health experts have long counseled parents against allowing very young children to have much screen time. However, the AAP recently revised its stance, citing “evidence regarding health media use (that) does not support a one-size-fits-all approach” to media use by children.
Rather than keeping young children off devices entirely, the AAP now advises parents to develop a Family Media Use Plan that takes into account children’s developmental stages, and uses that information to create an appropriate and individual balance for media usage by each child. The AAP encourages parents to establish boundaries for how and when children may use digital devices, ensure they understand the importance of not sharing personal information online, and openly talk with children about media use.
In revising its recommendation, the AAP looked to a growing body of research that shows digital media use can help facilitate learning. Writing in the Hechinger Report, a highly regarded watchdog media outlet that covers inequality and innovation in education, Lisa Guernsey, director of New America’s early education initiative, and Michael H. Levine, founding director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a nonprofit literacy and digital media research organization, explained the shift in thinking.
“Literacy rates and toddlers’ media use may seem unrelated, but they are inextricably tied,” the co-authors noted. “The important connections between media and reading must be brought to light in schools, households, and in the public’s imagination … children at very young ages can gain important skills in literacy and language development if the content on the screen is designed for learning and if they have a parent or educator who talks with them about what they are doing and seeing.”
Making media work for learning
Parental involvement in media use is the key difference between programming that benefits children’s educational development, and valueless screen time, research shows. “Families are children’s first and most important teachers, advocates and nurturers,” the statement said, calling family involvement in kids’ education “critical” to their long-term success.
Busy tech-savvy parents recognize how easy technology can make it to access high-quality supplemental learning tools for their children, but finding a trusted source of curated content is not always easy.