When It Comes To Screen Time, Content Matters

Oct 22, 2014

Any parent of young kids--or even older ones for that matter--struggles with the question of how much screen time kids should be exposed to in a given day or week. Experts say it should be limited, but what's the definition of "limited"? And how realistic is it in a 21st-century life populated by screens on every device from phones to tablets and computers, before we even get to TV's?

Lisa Guernsey is the author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software Affects Your Young Children. She'll be speaking about these issues at the University of Vermont this week. She’s also director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids under 2 years old should have no screen time, and for those older than 2, it should be one to two hours at most.

But Guernsey said most parents don’t stick to that recommendation. Educated parents are more likely to be aware of the requirements and feel guilty about not sticking with it on a daily basis. “This technology is all around us now and it’s part of families lives now, so we have to find ways of working with it,” Guernsey said.

She said it’s not just about the amount of time a child is looking at something but also what they are seeing and how they are interacting with it. She summarizes the concerns about media in the book as being about  content, context and child. “How is your individual child reacting to, and getting interested in what they are seeing?”

Screen time differs for families based on their income brackets. Lower income parents want make sure their children have access to media. “Because they see how much it matters in their everyday lives and for the prospects of career trajectories to be able to be facile with technology,” Guernsey explained. She said families who are already awash with technology are concerned about time away from screens. “They are worried because they themselves as parents are constantly in front of computers and want to make sure their children have time for face to face interaction.”

Guernsey said the bottom line is that content really matters. Children who have been exposed to educational content don’t experience the same negative effects on attention later in life.

Lisa Guernsey will be speaking on Thursday night at the UVM Davis Center, as part of an event by the Vermont Humanities Council and the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children.