Monday, February 6, 2017

The Difference Between Educational & Entertainment Screen Time

A recent question from a parent wondering about screen time limits in our classrooms made me realize that not everyone is aware of the difference between educational and entertainment screen time. Many of today's parents grew up at a time when most, if not all, screen time in their childhood was for entertainment purposes. There were no eBooks, educational apps, and many fewer (if any) computer programs for learning. Parents my age or older likely grew up at a time when the only screens in their school were an occasional TV/VCR wheeled into the classroom. This was also a time when our own parents warned us about spending too much time in front of a television screen, or later, perhaps too much time video gaming at an arcade (and eventually video gaming with a console connected to our television). Also, at this time we didn't hear anything asking us to consider the content on the screen, the only focus was on overall screen time limits. 

Until a year and a half ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics had long suggested limiting a child’s total screen time per day. Then in 2015, the AAP revised their screen time recommendations. They now encourage parents consider the content on the screen itself before deciding whether or not there should be any time limits. The AAP recommends limiting recreational/entertainment screen time to one to two hours per day for children over age two (source). There is no screen time limit for educational content and use. More tips from the AAP about children and media.

Personally, my wife and I limit the amount of entertainment screen time our children spend per day to about an hour: we have our kids limit their video gaming time to 20 minutes a day, setting a timer before they start playing. We also try to keep the time spent per day watching a television/Netflix show to 30 minutes. On the weekends, we do allow more--often they may watch a movie or two. The time our kids spend daily on screens for educational reasons doesn’t count toward these limits. We’ve made it a rule that homework needs to get completed after school first before screens can be used for entertainment, and hopefully this is creating some good habits for our kids to follow in their future!

The revised AAP recommendations were long overdue and I'm thankful they finally were made. However, in the past decade or so while there was exponential growth in the field of educational technology, the unrevised AAP recommendations remained in place and were a source of confusion for parents. As educators, we need to remember that many parents still aren’t aware that the AAP made these changes and still think that all screens are equal. We also need to realize that just because we share this information with parents once, we can’t expect that everyone will hear it and know it from this point forward. It will be an ongoing educational task. There will likely be new technologies that become widely adopted that may need revised recommendations and AAP guidance once again, too. Hopefully it won’t take quite so long!

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