Is All (Electronic) Screen Time the Same?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children younger than 2 avoid digital media other than video chatting. Children ages 2 to 5 should not watch more than one hour of high-quality children’s programming per day. But is all screen time the same? Is screen time bad for children?

Let’s look at the different types of screen time:

Bad Screens???

1. Traditional (sometimes violent) Video Games

Parents have worried since the Coyote tried to drop a safe on the Roadrunner’s head in cartoons that watching violence can lead to violent behavior. The American Psychological Association (2015) stated “research has demonstrated an association between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, aggressive cognitions and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement”. However, these studies do not consider whether the children are being parented by their parents who observe the child’s behaviours and teach them about the appropriateness of the behavior they witness in the games. In addition, the studies do not consider if the games are replacing parental supervision which result in minimal parental awareness and involvement in the activity.

An interesting phenomena is occurring where adolescents (especially boys) choose to interact with their friends by playing these games instead of engaging in personal face-to-face activities with them. Children need their parents to set limits so that children are participating in both types of activities. Remember when your mom used to send you outside to play and get fresh air. Balance is just as important today as it was when you were a child. Some things don’t change.

2. Television is also a Screen

Since the 1950’s parents have believed children watch too much TV. Again, parents must be aware of and have control over what content is being watched on TV. Parents must also ensure that the maturity level of the programs is appropriate to the age of the children. In an ideal world parents actually sit down and watch television with their children and it becomes a family activity.

With the advent of streaming and services like You Tube, the risk is that children can quickly and privately move from approved content to dangerous and inappropriate material with just a few discreet clicks. Rather than simply saying “no” to streaming entertainment, parents have a

responsibility to set limits and to discuss with children how to stay safe and be aware of the dangers of indiscriminate viewing.

Good Screens???

3. Puzzle/Creative Video Games and Apps

There are a multitude of video games and apps which encourage observation skills, analytic skills, spatial reasoning, and problem solving (remember Tetris?). While such games can also have many “rewards, bells and whistles” that make it hard to stop playing, these activities in moderation can be useful for brain development in children and brain maintenance in adults.

4. Educational Programs

With recent social distancing requirements and on-line schooling, parents are discovering that there are many valuable screen activities ranging from learning new concepts, practicing skills and even communicating/collaborating with teachers and classmates. Without such electronic contact education for many children would grind to a halt. Children benefit from a successful game-style screen interaction so parental assistance during on-line schooling will contribute to both focus and success.

5. Social Interaction

Zoom, Skype, Facetime, etc. are the new telephone and can provide children much needed social interaction with peers and extended family when in-person interaction is not possible.

So, what is the point of this? It is important for parents to be aware that not all screen time is the same and definitely not all screen time is evil or will turn their children into walking zombies. Yes, there are risks for children when engaging with screens, just as there are risks to playing soccer at the park when children are not age-appropriately supervised. This is where talking to your children about their personal safety comes in. Parents need to spend enough time away from their own devices to be involved with and aware of what their children are doing, who they are spending time with, and how they are entertaining themselves. Parents must work together to agree on the limits of screen time.