SXSW: Screen Time Real Talk


By: Account Lead, Dina Sorser

Televisions, smartphones, and tablets, oh my! There is no question that today’s children are being raised in a screen-filled environment unlike anything we’ve seen before. There are studies being conducted all the time on media and how it’s affecting the modern family. The proper amount of screen time for children has been a particularly tense issue in the early childhood development arena for a long time, and has become increasingly heated with the addition of new technology into the household. I myself have a 2-year-old and 4-year-old who each have their own iPads and are shockingly proficient in how to operate them. There is a standing debate in my household about what the appropriate amount of screen time should be and how to walk the fine line between taking advantage of all the wonderful technology we have today, while not letting it consume my children or permeate addictive behavior.

Not surprisingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a position on this issue. Their stance is that children should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and the content they consume during that time should be “high-quality content”. But what is deemed high-quality and is their position on children and media a bit behind the times? 

The short answer is yes, and here’s why. To the AAP a screen is a screen, with little attention given to the content or the experience the child is having during that screen time. But as all modern parents know, there is a huge difference in the interactivity and engagement our children consume depending on the activity they are doing. Skyping with grandma is different than playing a game, which is different than reading a digital book or solving a math problem, and so on. Watching TV has often been deemed a passive experience, but we are seeing all forms of media consumption moving away from this. Even cartoons such as “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” seek to engage with children by asking them to participate in solving problems, addressing them directly, and even pausing to allow them to reply. These interactive experiences have changed the way our children consume media, making recommendations based on passive media obsolete. 

Parents often tend to categorize educational screen time as quality and fun screen time as detrimental. However, these two are so intertwined that it’s almost impossible to really make the distinction. How do we splice an app into educational vs. interactive vs. purely play? Not an easy task but we can always revert back to the golden rule: too much of a good thing is no longer good. If all programming is purely educational, our kids are missing the fun play time they want and need. Our society has undoubtfully moved to the understanding that media is very much a part of our lives and we cannot equate all screen time the same way. As parents, we should attempt to strike a balance of healthy screen time in all aspects, much like we would our child’s diet or general play. Keeping the process guided and interactive and experiencing it with our children is the best way to ensure they are getting the most out of the technology they are using.