Children and Screen Time: Embracing technology without guilt

Children and screen time is often a controversial subject. How much time is appropriate for your young child to spend looking at screens? Is it even developmentally appropriate for your child to be looking at screens at all? If so, what content is appropriate for them to watch or interact with? And what role, if any, do you play when it comes to your child’s screen time?

Screens are everywhere. They beckon us to watch and engage, including your child, who is a digital native. Your child will never know what it was like to grow up without a screen of some sort at their fingertips. And, because screens are ever-present, it’s important to understand their impact on your child.

Current recommendations

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are actively involved in studying the impact of screen time on little ones. NAEYC supports the AAP’s current recommendation that says: “For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.” It is best for children ages 2 to 5 to get less than an hour of screen time a day.

ParentPal’s parent company, Teaching Strategies, has provided early childhood educators with innovative, research-proven curriculum materials for 40 years. The company’s position is that when children engage with technology side-by-side with an adult, the children are captivated and delighted in fun and safe ways while learning. The adult supports, or scaffolds, the child’s learning. This aligns with research that says a child’s Zone of Proximal Development—the space between what they can do independently and what they can do with the help of families or caregivers—is where learning is optimized.

Content matters! So does context.

The NAEYC defines “high-quality programming” as content that is specifically designed for a child’s age group and that reflects children’s experiences in the real world. But programming is only half of the story. How the content is used matters just as much. Learning is enhanced when families and caregivers participate with their children, turning screen time into a social, interactive experience. When adults actively engage children during screen time, talking about what the children are seeing and hearing, “toddlers are 22 times more likely to apply what they learn from the screen to the real world, as compared with children whose caregivers do not provide an interactive learning experience.”

Your role as teacher and tour guide

To respect children and foster discovery, content must be rich and compelling. ParentPals’ nourishing visual content—Videos, eBooks, and eWords—brings to life sights and sounds in ways traditional books never could, and prompts interactions that offer powerful learning opportunities for very young children. Quality visuals can illustrate how things look, move, behave, and sound in the real world. They can take your little one on a virtual field trip to a coral reef or an African savannah, illustrate abstract concepts, and expose your child to the joys of music and dance.

Ultimately, regardless of what content you’re using, your role as teacher and tour guide is to share your knowledge and perspective about what is being seen and heard as it happens while your child enjoys the memorable sights and sounds made possible through screen time. Is that so controversial?