Kids And Screen Time – Lots Of Numbers, But What Do They Mean?

The non-partisan, not-for-profit organization Common Sense Media recently issued a research study entitled Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America that is generating a lot of buzz in ECE circles. Based on a survey of 1,384 parents of children ages 0 to 8 years old from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic groups, the report offers up a lot of numbers for interpretation about the kinds of media children are using and the amount of “screen time” today’s young children are experiencing by using these media. People in our industry are starting to interpret these numbers and draw some conclusions.

A blog at mindleaptech.com puts forth the idea that if young children are going to be sitting in front of a screen, they should do so while using educational apps that enhance learning. Another blog post at Education Stormfront calls this the first study of the generation of students who literally grew up with smart phones and tablet devices from day one, noting that the report says 27% of low-income families have a smart phone. “Considering that this type of phone didn’t even exist 10 years ago that is amazing,” the blogger notes. Many other early childhood education blogs and news sources have reported on the study without offering commentary, making it one of the most widely reported studies we’ve seen in quite a while.

Perhaps the most thorough analysis of the report’s findings is offered by Lisa Guernsey in an article on The Huffington Post website, “Screen Time, Young Kids and Literacy: New Data Begs Questions.” Guernsey’s opinion in this area holds more sway than most, as she is the author of the 2007 book Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age 5, which she is currently updating. While Guernsey says that the data collected for the report (like any such data collected through surveys) must be taken with a grain of salt, she does think the research indicates one thing very clearly: “Media is embedded in children’s lives and dominating hours of their days, while reading is trailing behind.” Given that fact, she says we must start examining that media and start asking key questions. “The next trick is to tease out what I call the Three C’s: the content, context and the individual child,” she writes. “What kinds of media — what TV shows, which online games? Who’s with them as they read and play, and how is that experience integrated into what they are learning or interested in? And what ages and dispositions of children are drawn to what kinds of media for what reasons? Until we can answer these questions, we will continue to be in the dark about the impact of media and its complicated connection to literacy among the next generation.” (If you are interested in hear more from Lisa Guernsey on this topic, we urge you to sign up for our upcoming free webinar, How ‘Screen Time’ Impacts Kids – What Do Scientists Really Know?, to be held on November 15 at 2:00 PM ET.)

Of course, we at Hatch are particularly interested in this topic because we produce some of the media these children are using. Our iStartSmart all-in-one systems and new iStartSmart Mobile tablets are designed specifically for children 3-5 and use research-based educational activities that advance math and literacy skills. But as proud of these products as we are – and as effective as they have been shown to be – we recognize that value of instructional technology is when it is integrated effectively into a classroom. These devices should be part of an overall learning platform that also includes teacher instruction, personal interaction, play, group activities and all the other things children need to do every day to develop both the cognitive and social skills they need to be successful both academically and personally. That, we think, should be the goal for everyone in ECE, and we each have to play our part in making it happen.

About Dr. Dale McManis