Much of my research focuses on the literacy practices of individuals in online and hybrid spaces. This means that I study the ways that people use technology and digital spaces to read, write, communicate, and socialize. I purposefully study “people” from infancy up to adulthood. I think this is important so I can better understand the roles of technology in (and across) our lives.
One of the biggest question marks in my research is around the use of technology with infants, toddlers, and children. From my experience, the discussion in these spaces is filled with a lot of fear, paranoia, and not much research. Yet, even with these concerns, I see many parents, care-givers, and educators simply handing over devices to the young. I believe the truth is that we don’t really know what these digital tools, and ubiquitous networked capacity are doing to psychology, physiology, and social connections. Put simply, we’re experimenting on ourselves…and our youth when we utilize these digital texts and tools.
The challenge is that I often hear colleagues, parents, and students share incorrect information, or false narratives to support their conclusions. These may include sharing stories about “research suggests that kids shouldn’t see screens until they’re five” or anecdotal stories that suggest that “the founders of these tech companies send their kids to school where there is no technology.”
This post will describe some of the research in the area. The post will outline some of the guidance we have on “safe” screentime for use with youth. Guidance from physicians has been changing drastically over the past decade as we learn more about the impact of these texts, tools, and screens in our lives.
In 2016, the AAP suggested avoiding use of screen media other than video-chatting for children younger than 18 months. The 2016 guidelines suggest that children 18 to 24 months of age can view digital media of high-quality programming, whereas children aged 2 to 5 should be limited to one hour per day of high-quality programming. Children aged 6 and older should have consistent limits placed on the time and types of media consumed.
In 2017, the AAP guidelines were studied by researchers from Oxford University and Cardiff University. The study, published in the journal Child Development, found restrictions on children’s time in front of smartphones or tablets were out-of-date. Researchers suggested the AAP guidelines might be out of date because they don’t account for how prevalent smartphones and tablets are in everyday life. “It is incumbent on researchers to conduct rigorous, up-to-date research that identifies mechanisms by and the extent to which screen-time exposure might affect children, said study co-author Dr. Netta Weinstein of Cardiff University.
In all cases, the AAP recommends co-viewing of content and subsequent discussions between children and parents or guardians to help children understand what they are viewing. The AAP also recommends developing these guidelines with children to make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. Research suggests that less than half of the time spent in front of screens by children aged two to ten is spent consuming content that is educational in nature (Rideout, 2014).
My gut feeling is that we need to be thoughtful and pragmatic in our use of, and inclusion of, technology in the lives of our children. We also need to problematize and be honest in the assessments of our own use of tech.
For more information, please review the following:
- Children and Media Tips from the AAP
- Media and Young Minds – AAP
- Children and Adolescents and Digital Media – AAP
- Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents – AAP
- Joint Policy Brief on Use of Technology with Young Children
- Technology in the Lives of Educators and Early Childhood Programs
- Helping Students, Teachers, and Parents Make Sense of the Screen Time Debate
Join the debate
Want to share what screen time looks like in your life? Want to share more about some of the challenges and opportunities you face with the use of screens? What tips, tricks, or habits do you utilize in relation to screens in your role as an educator, parent, employee, or human being?
Join a research-focused discussion about screentime and the following questions. What digital and media competencies must young citizens acquire? How do these competencies affect school policy and pedagogy? How are students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors transformed by engaging with various forms of media?
Get involved in this research project by joining the open public forums on our website. We’re using FlipGrid for this open research project, and you can go directly to the topics at flipgrid.com/screentime. Our goal is to provide a space for all individuals to discuss the future of our youth, and the role of screen time in those futures. We look forward to having you join this screen time discussion.
Also published on Medium.