The Benefits of Screen Time for Kids: A Look at the Data
My husband is an electrical engineer who has worked for two of the largest tech companies in the world. I am an investor in a variety of tech products. We both benefit from screens in our professional and personal lives. Inevitably, we model how ubiquitous screens are for work and play. The news is filled with warnings. Screen time before two years of age harms kids eyes as well as their attention spans
. Sitting in front of the pixel boxes contributes to childhood obesity. Pediatricians talk of over-firing nervous systems. The risks are studied and documented. But what about the rewards?
Self Control has the word “self” in it for a reason.
Allowing our kids to make their own choices (particularly during free time) improves their confidence, time management, and ability to sense and meet their own need. Plus it preserves the parent-child relationship. Peter Gray writes that scared us with brain scans:
"It is always a mistake, I think, to tell kids what they must or must not do, except in those cases where you are telling them that they must do their share of the chores around the house or must not do things that hurt you or other people. Whenever we prevent our kids from playing or exploring in the ways they prefer, we place another brick in a barrier between them and us. We are saying, in essence, 'I don't trust you to control your own life.'
Children are suffering today, not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom."
Video games can help keep kids fit.
Screen time does not just mean kids are sitting like lumps on the couch. Many games encourage dancing, bouncing and swinging. In our house even sedentary games seem to include a lot of jumping around as they encourage each other to win a particular battle. They are in it together. It is really more We, or Wheee than it is Wii.
“Systematic surveys have shown that regular video-game players are, if anything, more physically fit, less likely to be obese, more likely to also enjoy outdoor play, more socially engaged, more socially well-adjusted, and more civic-minded than are their non-gaming peers.” - Wack & Trantleff-Dunn (2009), "relationship between electronic game play, obesity, and psychosocial functioning in young men; CyberPsychology & Behavior.
Easier access to academics.
As our kids get older, their technological fluency is leading to advanced academics. One of the most common phrases in our house is “search it up.” They have taught themselves how to inflate boats to contribute to their Destination Imagination Project. They have created multi media presentations on “matter” and they have learned how to pick a lock. We are so proud. New Scientist
explains…“there is an unquestionable body of research showing that new technologies can engage children,” she says. Her studies have shown that children who struggle to learn using books often made more progress with iPads. Its not all research and reading…it is also having the technological fluency to focus on the content rather than the computing. In school test taking has taken to the keyboard. My kids have to turn in assignments through Google docs and communicate with their teachers through email. Their ability to type and navigate the internet took a lot of their anxiety away about the process of school, allowing them to focus on learning.
It's a small world after all.
My younger son’s social life is supported by Skype. He may be online, but he is not alone. He chats with a boy from Germany about bedtimes while he plays Minecraft. He crafts imaginary worlds while learning about the real one. When he is confused about a game, he heads to a wiki. When he needs a refund for an online purchase, he copies his purchase order and heads to the forum to request help from customer service. Sometimes he sends gifts to his online friends. Other times he barters with them over pick axes and armor. He is learning cost-benefits analysis and other economic principles at the same time he is practicing social skills. Kim Komando writes about the hidden benefits of Minecraft for USA Today
“One overlooked value of most strategy-based video games is resource management. The player has a finite amount of resources at any given time and needs to decide wisely how to use them most effectively.”
He feels that anything and anyone are just a click away. This is a powerful message to learn at nine, and I don’t think that anything could have taught him this more quickly than a few keystrokes with the fingertips that reach forward to access the world.
Tablets level the playing field.
Studies that talk about family dinners and bedtime reading routines often have stratified results based on socioeconomic backgrounds. Tablets seem to take away some of the tilted results. Although not every family has tablets in the home a consistently lowering price point (for example, $50 for a color Kindle Fire
) is making access more equitable. New Scientist
cites a survey of more than 1,000 teachers and parents of five-year-olds concluding that: “importantly, the performance of children from low socio-economic backgrounds who use both at home is less likely to be below average at school than if they only look at books.” According to Wired Magazine
tech can be an equalizer economics as well as academics. “Technology can be the spark that transforms these limiting systems and extends economic opportunity to those marginalized populations desperately in need of it. If these individuals remain in the margins, and their perspective, ideas, and talents continue to go untapped, they will become a financial burden to society, rather than viable contributors.” Instead of limiting our kids’ access to technology we offer slight oversight as they learn about research, Kickstarter, auctions, and other cultures. When they were small, they learned to read and write and add and take turns. Which is not to say our world is contained in computers. Together we take family walks and bike rides, we kick around a soccer ball, and some of us play hockey and practice yoga. A Saturday might include a hike…after 6 hours of Minecraft and a movie. It's the way we live, for better and for worse. Brain scans be damned.