5 New Studies That Challenge Conventional Wisdom About Kids and Tech
This week, hordes of kids across the country are spending some of their Christmas break hours staring at screens. And hordes of parents are probably fretting that they shouldn’t be letting them do this. That “screen time”—computer screen, TV screen, cellphone screen, etc.—is indiscriminately and insidiously dangerous for young minds.
These parents should relax.
Some research—and common sense—suggests ample screen time could be bad if it displaces other things, just as spending every waking hour on any one activity could be bad. But moderate screen time and occasional bursts of excessive screen time (say, during winter break) are probably harmless. So long as kids still generally find time for things like physical activity, schoolwork, and in-person socializing with family and peers, screen time per se simply shouldn’t be a concern for most families.
That’s not to say TV, TikTok, or Call of Duty will never be problematic. Some kids use things like these to escape feelings or situations they should be confronting. Some are extra susceptible to rude comments or risky suggestions.
But problematic tech use tends to reflect underlying issues, as Stetson University psychologist Christopher Ferguson told Reason for this piece on algorithms. “Pathological technology use” isn’t caused by technology—but because that’s the most visible symptom, parents and politicians think “let’s take the video games away, or Facebook or Instagram away, and everything will be resolved.”
Besides, “screen time” can mean many, many different things. Parents would do better to fret less about the precise amount of time kids spend playing video games, watching TV, surfing social media, or what have you, and exert more interest in the nature of the content kids consume, create, and interact with.
Studies connecting childhood screen time to negative results don’t often take the type of screen time into account. And press about these studies tends to confound causation and correlation, insisting that screen time is responsible for emotional, behavioral, or developmental issues that could be the factor of something else (absent parents, depression, etc.) that drives both more time in front of screens and the issue in question.
But there’s also a lot of research challenging the doomsayers—it just doesn’t tend to get as much media attention. To do our small part to help correct that, here are five recent studies that challenge conventional wisdom about kids and screens.
“Effects of screen exposure on young children’s cognitive development: A review.”
Published in Frontiers in Psychology, August 2022
Main takeaway: TV can be good for kids’ cognitive development.
In this study, a team of researchers from the University of Portsmouth and France’s Paris Nanterre University looked at the impact of screen exposure on early childhood cognitive development. To do so, they analyzed 478 studies published throughout the past two decades. While some studies linked early exposure to television with negative effects in children under age 3, watching TV was also linked to positive effects, depending on the type of media being viewed and the circumstances under which this viewing takes place.
“We’re used to hearing that screen exposure is bad for a child and can do serious damage to their development if it’s not limited to say less than an hour a day. While it can be harmful, our study suggests the focus should be on the quality or context of what a child is watching, not the quantity,” said Eszter Somogyi of the University of Portsmouth in a statement. “Weak narrative, fast pace editing, and complex stimuli can make it difficult for a child to extract or generalise information. But when screen content is appropriate for a child’s age, it’s likely to have a positive effect, particularly when it’s designed to encourage interaction.”
Watching TV with a caregiver around can also make the experience more beneficial. “Watching television with your child and elaborating and commenting on what is viewed can help enhance their understanding of the content, reinforcing their learning during educational programs,” said Somogyi. “Coviewing can also contribute to the development of their conversation skills and provides children with a role model for appropriate television viewing behavior.”
Take a look at the full analysis for a deep dive
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