Screen Time-Too Much or Too Little?

I have had a few conversations with early childhood teachers regarding their concerns over the amount of “screen time” students are having. I thought as an Elementary Technology Teacher, I would reflect and share my views on the subject.

Screen time could be defined as the amount of time children are spending in front of TVs, computers, hand held video games, phones and other multimedia devices. In today society, students are spending more and more time with multimedia and less time doing sports, socializing and spending time with family.

The possible negative effects of too much screen time are impeded language development, obesity, aggressive behavior, speech delays, decreased negative behavior among others. It is easy as a concerned parent for these things to have an alarmist effect and lump all electronic devices into one broad category and say they are all bad. Researchers say that we should limit screen time to 2 hours per day.

However, that isn’t exactly true. Lumping together playing hours upon hours of Call of Duty or watching South Park as the same as watching an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy or playing some educational games on Starfall is ridiculous. But people want clear cut rules. Parents want to know exactly how many hours my child can spend per day in front of a screen per day. Well, I would say it depends.

It depends on many factors such as:

  • How many hours does your family spend doing activities together?
  • How active is your child physically?
  • What learning style does your child have?
  • What type of device are they using?
  • What types of games or shows are they playing?
  • How is your child doing academically?

All of these factors come into play when deciding on the amount of screen time. For example, if a child isn’t very active physically, then maybe spending 4 hours in front of a TV isn’t the best use of their time.

I would also argue that there are many benefits to additional screen time. There are lots of educational sites online that can really boost a child’s academic performance such as StudyLadder, Starfall, and RAZ kids that have focussed mathematics and reading activities that can engage and differentiate learning. Other positive effects are improved hand-eye coordination, dexterity, creativity and problem solving ability. Personally, I have seen huge progress of kindergarten student’s mathematical and literacy ability through these sites.

Some research suggests that children between the ages of 2 months and 4 years old who were exposed to more screen time than a control group showed that they spoke less words. However, this was done on TV not computers. I would argue that TV is a very passive process for the most part whereas computers is a much more active process.

Overall, I would argue that keeping things in moderation is healthy. I am not a big fan of the “2 hour rule” but it does simplify things for parents. I think parents and teachers need to examine the whole picture. Some students could use more screen time whereas some students could use less depending on their family situation. It just bothers me that experts try and lump all screen time in the same category when there are huge differences between types of media and quality of media.

What are your thoughts??