When I started writing a column about parenting and screen time this spring, I talked to a lot of people about technology and young children, from academic experts to friends and former colleagues. I wrote about what I learned in a feature about the challenges that ubiquitous screens pose in the 21st century. I distilled some of what I'd learned into the following list, with a big lift from danah boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society Research Institute. An earlier version of the list was published at Medium and my personal blog.
1) Modeling matters. Screens are ubiquitous in modern life. How we integrate them into our own lives will influence our children, both positively or negatively.
2) Engagement with our children as we consume media, whether on TV, tablets, or print, is critical to learning.
3) Parents can’t go wrong if we engage in “dialogic learning.” As you read or watch screens, talk about what you're experiencing and learning. Talk through each interaction.
4) There’s an important difference between young children passively consuming media on a screen and actively using it to communicate. Watching a video isn’t the same, for instance, as Skyping or Facetiming with grandparents.
5) Parents should consider where and when children spending screen time consuming media alone may be replacing human-to-human interaction. Wired playdates for Minecraft, by contrast, might be moving some social interactions online.
6) Children, particularly in early stages of development, generally learn better with materials they can touch, versus what they see on a screen. Exploring concepts in three dimensions can be more cognitively accessible than doing so in two dimensions.
7) Not all screen time is measured equally. What young children do with screens should be appropriate to their age level, have a time limit, and involve parents and caregivers.
8) When screens are playing interactive media in the background, the ability of children to learn is negatively affected.
9) Watching TV or videos 2 hours before bedtime can have negative outcomes for the sleep of children.
10) When parents use mobile devices and ignore their kids at mealtimes or in social settings, it can lead to children acting out. Be present.
11) Too much interactivity in ebooks and games can distract from a story line, which in turn can negatively impact learning.
12) As they get older, children will get assignments that will involve screens. Talk about how they want to allocate their time to homework, play and socializing.
“It’s not about ‘screen vs. non-screen’ because homework is now on the screen," said boyd. "It’s about thinking about what time should look like."
13) Have empathy for other parents, especially on long-haul plane or long bus rides. “Forgive yourself for using tech as a babysitter sometimes” suggested danah boyd.
There can be significant problems with using YouTube as a babysitter, however, so be mindful of what they'll be able to access on a given computing device.
The "Zero to Three" initiative from the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families suggests that parents use "screen sense" around technology. The infographic below illustrates 5 myths that may be useful to other parents.
Fellow parents, please share your comments and thoughts about screen time, kids and learning are welcome.