It’s Screen Time!

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Image borrowed from kiwicommons.com

Image borrowed from kiwicommons.com

It’s common for a new term to take awhile to be refined until it actually means what we need it to mean. For example, we don’t hear about young children’s “screen time” in positive contexts these days. That is because Screen Time is a very broad brush that includes TV as baby sitter, violent video games and Tweeting.

The problem here early on is that screen time is being portrayed as ALL bad, ALL the time, something to be severly limited and if unavoidable, closely monitored for its negative side-effects. This concern is completely appropriate for what are called NON-interactive media such as infants being placed in a room to play, while a television is constantly on, handing the child a game console to keep her quiet before dinner and so forth.

As the National Association for Education of Young Children in partnership with the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media have stated in their white paper on digital media,

Interactive media refers to digital and analog materials, including software programs, applications (apps), broadcast and streaming media, some children’s television programming, e-books, the Internet, and other forms of content designed to facilitate active and creative use by  young children and to encourage social engagement with other children and adults.[1] (underline inserted by me)

They go on to assert that,

When the integration of technology and interactive media in early childhood programs is built upon solid developmental foundations, and early childhood professionals are aware of both the challenges and the opportunities, educators are positioned to improve program quality by intentionally leveraging the potential of technology and media for the benefit of every child.1 (Again, underline by me)

The point here is that there is nothing wrong with screens or screen time, per se, any more than there is resident evil in paper and pencil or a banana. There are certainly many arguably worthless opportunities to be found on-screen, for example, mindless games that bring virtually NO benefit and all but useless utilities that captivate children’s attention away from actually productive interactions with the world and with others.

Anything, even an old twig can be made productive by adding language – conversation, dramatic play, or a collaborative challenge. The same is true for the range of screens children encounter. Conversely, even great technology can be rendered useless by taking it out of social interactions that reflect understanding of children’s developmental needs for human to human stimulation.

If the activity around screens includes sharing with others, conversation, or some productive end, then screen time can actually be a really good thing.