Not All Screen Time Is Created Equal

Screen time is a perpetual topic of conversation for many parents.  How much is too much?  Is it really that bad?  What if I just need a break?

As a member of the Goddard Advisory Board and professor in the Department of Psychology and Child Development at California Polytechnic State University, Jennifer Jipson, PhD, listens to these concerns all the time.  Parents often tell Dr. Jipson that they’re struggling with how to manage their children’s screen time. One concern many parents share is that the allure of screen-based activities leads their children to neglect other, seemingly more beneficial activities in favor of the stories and games that they can so easily access on tablets, game consoles, and televisions.

When parents ask Dr. Jipson for advice about how to manage screen time, they usually expect her to say they should limit screen time significantly or avoid it altogether – but they’re often surprised at her response.  Instead of talking about screen time as a “big bad wolf”,  Dr. Jipson emphasizes the power of digital tools to be positive learning experiences for children when used in limited and intentional ways.   If used correctly, screen time can be used as an opportunity for learning.

Here are a few ways that Dr. Jipson thinks screen time can be “time well spent.”

screen time
Image via Pexels

{ MORE: Teaching Kids How to Wait Without Electronics }

Choose quality learning apps

The marketplace of “educational apps” for young children is overwhelming. Unfortunately, a lot of what is out there is basically “chocolate covered broccoli” — apps that try to disguise learning opportunities with a thin and gratuitous layer of entertainment (e.g., digital flashcards with a visual reward when the correct answer is selected).  But for young children, well-designed learning products make the learning itself fun- no need to cover it up!  But how can a parent know which apps are worth it?

Apps that engage children in meaningful learning are those that challenge children to learn new problem solving strategies and content – such apps respond to children’s growing skills by “leveling up” or becoming more challenging as children demonstrate achievement.  In a well-designed app, every “eureka, I got it!” moment, should be followed by a “hmm, I wonder” moment – the cycle of intrinsically motivated learning will continue!   

Try incorporating something your child is already interested in.

Connect the learning beyond the screen with programs like Lego apps so that there is a natural activity to turn to when screen time is over.  

Use joint media engagement. 

In other words, spend some screen time together. Children benefit when parents watch child-directed TV with them,and play screen-based games together.  Parents can help children interpret what they’re seeing/doing, and can ask children to make connections between their prior experiences and the show/game.  

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Combine physical and digital materials. 

Young children learn through hands-on exploration of the world around them.  Even the best apps don’t typically offer a rich hands-on learning environment (but there are those that encourage children to interact with the “real world”). Recently, the toy industry started to offer hybrids between physical and digital elements.

Products like Fisher Price’s Code-a-Pillar and Wonder Workshop’s Dot and Dash allow children to control how toys move and sound.  Kids have fun creating pretend stories and making obstacle courses, all while learning a new fundamental literacy skill – coding!  Another fun option are these droids from Sphero.

If done right, there is no need to fear screen time and no need to feel guilty.

What do you think?

Not All Screen Time Is Created Equal

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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