Not all screen time is equal, or educational

When children and adolescents have unlimited and unsupervised access to media, evidence has shown that this exposure can lead to several health effects such as academic difficulties, obesity, substance abuse, and aggression. Yet, we live in a media-rich world where devices like tablets and smartphones can also provide many benefits. To acknowledge this need for balance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently updated their guidelines for children and adolescents with new policy statements on screen time.

tablet userTo start the screen time conversation with parents, the AAP recommends that pediatricians begin asking these two questions at every well-child visit: How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily? Is there a TV set or an Internet connected device in the child’s or teenager’s bedroom?

The AAP recommends that parents limit entertainment screen time to less than one to two hours per day. They suggest that families create a media plan for their homes and keep televisions and other Internet connected devices out of a child’s bedroom.

Schools and teachers should be considering these guidelines too. How can parents make a media plan for their family without knowing what is being consumed at school? We must be careful not to contribute to a child’s entertainment screen time diet.

Many games and apps are labeled “educational” but have no measured effectiveness to support the claim. Some are simply just interactive toys. Dr. Ari Brown, pediatrician and lead author of policy provided by the AAP in 2011, questions the link between an interactive game and the learning it promises to provide. “There’s nothing wrong with a toy being fun, engaging a child for an amount of time. But to promote it as being educational we really need to do research to find out,” explains Brown.

Based on the new AAP guidelines and recommendations, there are many things for teachers to consider. Online games and touch-screen apps can be incredibly engaging for students. However, we must select tools that can demonstrate a targeted approach to student learning. Look for tools that have research to support their educational benefits and be critical of those that will only contribute to a child’s daily dose of entertainment screen time.