Three Fears About Screen Time for Children

Introduction

Technology on the whole and various gadgets, in particular, are integral to the life, work, and education of nearly every individual. Nevertheless, while adults and even adolescents are using devices such as phones or tablets excessively, people hesitate when it comes to the use of gadgets by preschoolers. A TED talk of 2017 presented by Sara DeWitt discusses three major fears related to screening time for children and explains why these fears are not true.

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The purpose of this paper is to provide an analysis of DeWitt’s talk and reveal the arguments and evidence that demystify the fears of adults regarding the use of phones and other devices by young children. Thus, the analysis will address such issues as the passiveness of screens, playing games as a waste of time, and the impact of screen time on the child’s isolation. After the analysis, the paper will summarize the main ideas expressed by the speaker and suggest some theoretical and applied questions to be addressed next.

In the TED talk presented in 2017, DeWitt challenges a broadly accepted opinion about the harm of screen time for small children. The speaker shares her supposition about the power of screens to stimulate “more real-life conversations” between parents and their children (DeWitt, 2017). Still, DeWitt realizes that the fear for children and technology is not new and roots back to the rise of television, which was also treated as a hazard but proved to be a powerful educational tool. However, contemporary kids seem to be at a higher risk due to the diversity of devices surrounding them. Thus, parental fears related to the screen time of children are as follows.

The first fear is related to the passiveness of screens. Parents are concerned about the lack of movement for their children because of spending time with gadgets. Nevertheless, DeWitt provides an example of a phone stimulating not only movement but cognitive function as well. Thus, the speaker tells about the Kratt brothers, the zoologists hosting a show about animals on PBS, who suggested using cameras built into contemporary devices to make children play a game and pretend they are animals. The idea was that children would copy the movements that bats make and copy these to see themselves on the screen looking like a bat.

This idea made children move to have the fun of becoming a mammal. Moreover, this idea has a certain “side effect.” After finishing the game on the gadget, the children continued playing. Also, the game had a positive impact on their cognitive development by increasing their curiosity about the animal world and stimulating their interest to learn more about nature.

The second fear is connected with prejudice that games on screens are a waste of time and have a negative impact on children’s education distracting their attention. Nevertheless, the speaker claims that there are educational games that are more helpful in explaining some concepts and rules for preschoolers than a teacher or parents are. Moreover, there is a supposition that the development of tests that look like games can reduce testing anxiety, which is typical of children.

Finally, the third fear is probably the most significant for parents because they frequently believe that screens isolate them from their children (DeWitt, 2017). However, the presenter of the talk suggests that parents can use applications on gadgets to learn their children better. Also, in such a way they may spend time together more productively due to the tips provided by the games their children play.

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Critical Analysis

The major idea expressed by the author of the talk is that screens are integral to children’s lives and the task of parents is to teach a child to use them. Evidently, not all content is suitable for a child, and the parents are expected to control it and find a balance between the fears and the opportunities for learning and development that screens suggest. Nevertheless, to use screens effectively and minimize the possible harm they can bring, it is important to be aware of the peculiarities of child development depending on age and consider those aspects that can be addressed through the use of screens. Following the ideas of DeWitt (2017), the major aspects to be discussed are related to the identified fears and include passiveness of screens, games as the waste of time, and isolating impact of screens.

Screen Passiveness

The first aspect of the use of screens to discuss is their passiveness. Parents are normally disturbed in case children spend more time than necessary with gadgets because they are aware that active movement is crucial for growing bodies. The theoretical standpoint of this aspect involves the problem of physical activity and the development of children. Research in this area proves that there is an association between the intensity of physical activity, sedentary time, and body composition of preschoolers (Collings et al., 2013).

The study revealed a strong correlation between vigorous physical activity and lower adiposity. Therefore, parents interested in contemporary research can conclude that the lack of physical activity can lead to weight gain among children. Nevertheless, the hypothesis does not have research evidence because no correlation was established between a sedentary lifestyle and higher adiposity (Collings et al., 2013). Consequently, while activity is significant for health, some sedentary time will not have a meaningful impact on children.

However, activity has an impact not only on the physical development of children. Research provides evidence of close relationships between physical activity and cognitive development in early childhood (Carson et al., 2016). Thus, long and intensive physical activity had a positive impact on some cognitive development outcomes during early childhood. On the one hand, these findings can be used by opponents of gadgets to justify the rejection of screen time for preschoolers and support the arguments in favor of more active lifestyles.

On the other hand, considering the examples of the opportunities that screens provide for an increase in both activity and cognitive development that was given by DeWitt (2017) in her talk, gadgets on the whole and games, in particular, have a strong potential to be beneficial for young children. For example, Baccaglini-Frank and Maracci (2015) provide evidence of the positive influence that multi-touch technology has on the development of number sense in preschoolers. The researchers mention the existence of “a neurofunctional link between fingers and number processing” (Baccaglini-Frank & Maracci, 2015, p. 9), thus relating training of children’s fingers and the development of numerical abilities.

Games on Screen Are the Waste of Time

This part of the analysis involves screen time as a possible distraction from learning and a waste of time. It views children as learners who should be persistent and serious to demonstrate high academic performance. Therefore, it examines such an aspect of development as learning, which is the primary activity of children for a long period, and thus demands particular attention. DeWitt (2017) presents the waste of time for playing screen games as one of the fears related to the use of gadgets by young children. Nevertheless, she challenges this superstition by providing an example of the educational value of screen games.

Games, if properly selected, can be beneficial for learning. Previous researchers agree that the most beneficial educational experiences for preschool students are based on play. Plowman and McPake (2013) suggest an idea that technology, including screen time, can be useful for the major areas of learning. Thus, in the area of operational learning children learn how to use and control gadgets as well as how to make them respond to one’s needs. The area of extending knowledge and understanding of the world involves observing something new about people, places. and the natural world on the whole (Plowman & McPake, 2013).

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The area of dispositions to learn is likely to benefit from technology by developing concentration and persistence. Moreover, children become more confident users of digital media and develop self-confidence, which is useful for further life and education. Finally, children obtain awareness of the role of technology and gadgets in everyday life and will not treat them as the source of entertainment only (Plowman & McPake, 2013).

Another issue to consider about the educational potential of gadgets for pre-school children is their impact on performance. Okudo and Omotuyole (2014) hypothesize that the application of play gadgets among small children can influence children’s language development. Their research proves that the learning environment created by adequate play gadgets is beneficial for the language performance of young children.

Researchers also speak about the opportunities of interactive technologies for education. The concept of interactivity is considered to be beneficial for the better progress of preschoolers in learning to read, write, and use numbers. Interactive characters can aid in preparing children for school or increasing their motivation for learning (Plowman & McPake, 2013). Since interactivity presupposes response from certain actions such as clicking or pressing, it can be applied with children who have problems with understanding a task or have insufficient motor skills. Still, technological interactivity itself is not a guarantee of academic success. Therefore, technology should be used under the control of parents or educators.

Screens Isolate Parents from Children

The issue about screens that looks the most hazardous for parents is the fact that children become more isolated from parents due to the use of gadgets. This problem implies a theoretical view of children as social beings who need real cooperation with other individuals including their parents. Also, it examines such aspects of development as emotion and family because relationships between parents and children include both concepts. Moreover, it involves the aspect of communication and socialization, which are treated in the context of the family for small children, but get on a broader level as children grow up.

Parents are worried that screen time can reduce the engagement of their children with families and have a negative impact on the development of communication skills necessary for school and further life. However, games and television series have the potential to stimulate children’s creativity, develop social and communicative skills, and assist in their communication with parents, thus influencing the formation of the emotional sphere.

The example of games empowering communication and cooperation between a child and a parent is provided by DeWitt (2017). The speaker tells that there are games that track the abilities and little successes of a child and give tips to parents on what to discuss or which game to play together with their children. Preschoolers value the opportunity to share their interests and achievement with meaningful abuts, and this opportunity provided by screen games can be beneficial for the development of communicative skills as well as for the establishment of emotional connections between parents and children.

Another opportunity suggested by technology is hindering social interaction (Plowman & McPake, 2013). The researchers claim that children aged 3 or 4 usually have their favorite programs or cartoons, which they watch repeatedly. However, these children do not simply watch what they choose but simultaneously select toys similar to those they see on the screen, dress up as their favorite characters, or repeat some activities they observe.

This behavior is typical of 3- and 4-year-olds and provides parents or other meaningful adults an opportunity to share experiences with children, role-play similar situations, and discuss what they see (Plowman & McPake, 2013). In this way, children develop the skill of social interaction, learn how to communicate with other people, and obtain valuable emotional experience with parents.

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Nevertheless, this use of screen time can make parents face certain stumbling blocks. Young children cannot be responsible consumers of information they watch or listen to with the help of gadgets. Most of them cannot read or type the names of programs and games. Hence, it is the task of parents to select the content for screen time of their children to make it useful and not only entertaining.

On the whole, many experienced scholars, educators, and young researchers agree that technology is beneficial during the period of early childhood (Sigdel, 2017). Some of the positive impacts that are supported by the research-based evidence include the following. Firstly, the use of gadgets improves motor skills due to a certain workout for the fingers and hands used during playing screen games (Sundus, 2018). Secondly, gadgets can have a positive impact on the development of cognitive skills, which comprise the ability to process information, provide reasoning, and remember objects and relate them with other ones. Thirdly, technology is helpful in educating preschool children (Sundus, 2018).

Screens allow young children to get information about any issue interactively or in the form of a game, which makes data easier to remember. Finally, playing screen games contributes to the development of competition skills, which is necessary for living in a competitive environment.

Nevertheless, despite the evident benefits, screen time for preschool children can have many negative effects if overused or applied inappropriately. Gadgets can become the cause of speech or language delay, lead to attention deficits and learning problems, provoke anxiety and childhood depression, and negatively influence the character of a child on the whole (Sundus, 2018). To avoid these negative impacts, screen time for children should be limited and controlled. Thus, it is necessary to set time for using gadgets, select age-appropriate content, provide feedback and discuss what children did and learned, and ensure that children have enough movement and adequate sleep.

Conclusion

It is evident that phones and other gadgets with screens became an integral part of everyday life for the majority of people of any age. Still, while many contemporary adults consider a phone to be almost vital, they have certain fears about their children using gadgets starting from a young age. Current research and experience of practicing educators prove that fears about screen time of preschoolers are exaggerated.

Phones, tablets, and laptops can become powerful educational tools if applied appropriately. The major precautions of a parent are the lack of activity due to the time spent near the screen, the waste of time on-screen games while it can be used for learning, and isolation of a child from parents. Nevertheless, research findings and practical observations demystify these fears and provide evidence that instead of a negative impact, screen time can have many benefits for young children in personal, social, educational, and emotional spheres.

Despite some studies dedicated to diverse aspects of the interaction between screens and preschoolers, the problem lacks a comprehensive approach. While there are some practical recommendations about the use of gadgets in classrooms, the issue of parents as potential educators for their preschoolers is not discovered. Consequently, further research can be dedicated to developing a working guide on the clever use of screen time for the smallest users to make gadgets in families not only the sources of entertainment but tools of learning and development.

Still, one of the most significant concerns about children and screen time is the involvement of parents. Uncontrolled use of gadgets by young children is likely to bring more harm than benefits, and the fact that humanity is worried about children using screens can be understood. However, carefully selected content consisting of educational games and programs under parental control can become a great contribution to a child’s development and success in further education.

References

Baccaglini-Frank, A., & Maracci, M. (2015). Multi-touch technology and preschoolers’ development of number-sense. Digital Experiences in Mathematics Education, 1(1), 7-27.

Carson, V., Hunter, S., Kuzik, N., Wiebe, S., Spence, J., Friedman, A., … Hinkley, T. (2016). Systematic review of physical activity and cognitive development in early childhood. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 19(7), 573-578.

Collings, P., Brage, S., Ridgway, C., Harvey, N., Godfrey, K., Inskip, H., … Ekelund, U. (2013). Physical activity intensity, sedentary time, and body composition in preschoolers. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(5), 1020-1028.

DeWitt, S. (2017). 3 fears about screen time for kids – And why they’re not true. TED. Web.

Okudo, A. R., & Omotuyole, C. (2014). Enhanced learning environment and its implications on the pre-school children’s language performance. European Scientific Journal, 10(7), 405-414.

Plowman, L., & McPake, J. (2013). Seven myths about young children and technology. Childhood Education, 89(1), 27-33.

Sigdel, S. (2017). Technology and learning capacity of children: A positive impact of technology in early childhood. MBA Student Scholarship, 56, 1-16.

Sundus, M. (2018). The impact of using gadgets on children. Journal of Depression and Anxiety, 7(1), 1-3.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, July 20). Three Fears About Screen Time for Children. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/three-fears-about-screen-time-for-children/

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