As we all spend more time using smartphones and tablets, Zero to Three (National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families) has released a series of guidelines and tip sheets for caregivers about screen time—the amount of time a person spends viewing a television, computer, tablet, smartphone, or other screen—and how it affects children from birth to age three. The report, “Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight,” by Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W., and Rachel Barr, Ph.D., offers guidelines that reinforce the need for personal “3-D” interaction in the real world, but also finds that limited “2-D” experiences can be beneficial when combined with adult interaction.
The writers clearly understand that most parents live with these technologies as constant companions in daily life, and their children are watching their parents use them. Learning when to limit and redirect a young child is a great starting point for concerned parents, but finding ways to use screen time as a positive tool will be an asset to both the parent and the child. Parents need to consider content and context when letting their children play games or watch TV. They also need to play along with the child, using conversation to connect the screen action to the real world. When a young child spends time alone with the TV, games, or just exploring a device, they are unlikely to positively transfer that information to real life. The report discusses this transfer deficit and reviews how repetition can play a positive role in reducing the transfer deficit, stating:
“When young children first view a page of a book or an image on screen, they focus on one aspect of it; but when the book or program is repeated, they focus on different features of what they are viewing. Over time, toddlers start to build a more complete memory by piecing together information from the multiple repetitions. When a more complete memory has formed, young children are better able to use information they take in from the 2-D world and transfer it to 3-D, real-world situations.”
While the authors agree that setting limits, monitoring content viewed, and setting the context is important, they also share experiences that show positive interaction between children, their families, and screen time. Turning off the background TV during dinner and replacing it with conversation is important. So is sitting and reading, viewing pictures, or playing games together. Both can be positive steps in helping kids connect with the world around them.
Check out these tips and downloads, and the complete report:
- Using Screen Media with Young Children offers a concise, one-page tip sheet with suggestions on making the connection between the screen world and the real world, watching together with your child, and playing games together, from Zero to Three.
- Key Research Findings from Screen Sense, Setting the Record Straight offers a three-page highlight of the complete report listed below.
- The complete ten-page report “Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight,” Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W., Zero to Three, and Rachel Barr, Ph.D., Department of Psychology and Director of Georgetown Early Learning Project at Georgetown University, is designed to serve as a tool for guiding parents and professional in making informed decisions.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Media and Children resources offer links for suggested use of media and online safety for children of all ages.
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