I’d like to return now to one of the topics I had mentioned previously – media consumption/screen time. This is a subject Brad and I did not think we’d need to address just yet as Holden is so young, and we are aware of the widespread recommendation that children under two get no screen time at all (American Academy of Pediatrics). We generally agree with this recommendation and thought it would be pretty straightforward to keep our kid from watching TV while he was a baby. As at least 95% of our (minimal) television viewing takes place in the later evening, in addition to our screens mainly being downstairs where we don’t play as much, so television exposure isn’t really an issue in our house. We have both (in our professional and personal lives) read the science and psychology behind the no-TV recommendations, which generally indicate that media consumption has no value for the development of very young children and perhaps is even a detriment. There are myriad reasons for this assertion – that interaction and physical negotiation of their surroundings is what children require to thrive developmentally; diminishing of creativity when parameters for play are defined; exposure to media violence linked to desensitization, lack of empathy and poorer school performance, and a negative impact on executive function skills such as self-regulation and problem solving (for a nice summary of the research and overall consideration of the topic, see Facing the Screen Dilemma). Here is an interesting excerpt of the statistics reported (American):
On any given day, 29% of babies under the age of 1 are watching TV and videos for an average of about 90 minutes. Twenty-three percent have
a television in their bedroom. Time with screens increases rapidly in the early years. Between their first and second birthday, on any given day, 64% of babies and toddlers are watching TV and videos, averaging slightly over 2 hours. Thirty-six percent have a television in their bedroom (5).
I find those statistics surprising to say the least, particularly given the official recommendations. What it does illustrate is the pervasive reach of media into even the youngest of children’s lives. So how will Holden’s babyhood compare? As television doesn’t play a huge role in our lives, it’s easy and intuitive enough to keep Holden away from it for now. The uncertainty for us, however, exists in two main respects: the ‘grey area’ technology he is exposed to now, and the role media will play in his life as he gets older. One final aspect is his observation of our own relationship with media and technology, and how that will shape, inform and ideally not contradict with his own evolving negotiation of the media landscape. I plan to explore this in a series of three blog posts, beginning with his current exposure. Before I delve into these three considerations, I should explain for those of you who aren’t familiar with our backgrounds: I have an MA in Communication with a media education concentration, and Brad is a high school English teacher who integrates technology and media both as a teaching tool and text of study regularly in his classroom. This is not to say that we have any more expertise as parents in this regard, just that we have a particularly complex and often reflected upon relationship with media.
While Holden is largely unaware what the big black box in the basement does, he certainly is keenly interested in our laptop screens, iPhones and iPad. It’s fascinating how he’s drawn to the bright screens, and loves pounding away on the keyboards. He even caresses the screen of the iPad, enthralled with the effect his finger strokes have. I find it both amazing and a bit terrifying how he seems to get how it works on some level – the way he’ll tap on the keys and look at letters appearing on the screen, how he’ll purposefully swipe a finger to engage with an iPad app. Wait, hold the phone (har har) – iPad app? That’s right. As a last ditch keep-the-baby-from-screaming-on-24-hours-of-flying effort over the holidays, we downloaded a few iPad apps to see if he would be interested. We did try them out a few times, and he was fascinated – one game is a ‘reverse colouring’ exercise which presents a black screen that a baby can rub a finger over to make a picture appear. Another is a keyboard that makes different noises and colours when different parts of the screen are contacted, and the third produces little shapes and colour bursts when you touch the screen. So – interactive? Yes. Engages the child in a learning activity? I’d say yes. A screen? Also yes. So, where does this fall in the broad “no screen media” proclamation for the under-two set? As parents, Brad and I feel that a small amount of exposure in this sense is perfectly fine and certainly not detrimental. After all, digital literacy and familiarity with interacting and engaging with media is essential for the current generation, beginning at perhaps the preschool years. Within reason, of course – other skills and experiences are arguably more important – a love of reading and conventional literacy, tactile free imaginative play, outdoor play and healthy living executive function skills, and literacy in social cues and interaction.
And what, then, of relationships with their friends and family? Well, with a 4,000 kilometer separation, Holden still manages to see his grandparents and cousins on a regular basis – albeit through a screen. Where does his FaceTime ‘conversations’ with his extended family fall? Would the media limitation pundits recommend instead we settle for annual visits? It’s a no brainer to us that cultivating a close relationship with his family is far more important than being unyielding on the anti-screen rules. The truth is that as a society our relationship with media and the role of screens in our lives goes far beyond the TV blaring in the background. Screens are often conduits to our interpersonal relationships, our education and our self image at the same time as they contribute to sendentary lifestyles and (arguably) other social ills. A blanket screen ban for our children seems too blunt an instrument to approach this complexity, although clearly there are negative (and positive!) repercussions to our children’s and our own consumption of and interaction with screen media. In his baby and toddlerhood, while we’re not concentrating on cultivating his digital literacy, we as parents feel that occasionally engaging with media that require interaction and participation (versus the more passive consumption of television-based media) is a healthy and positive choice for our family.
My next post in this series will concern the next stage of his development.