Older Kids Spend Less "Educational" Screen Time, Study Says


(Photo by J Pat Carter/AP)

The New York Times reported in January results of a study carried out by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a nonprofit research institute affiliated with the "Sesame Street" producer, which finds American children of 2–10 years old spend over 2 hours per day watching videos or interacting on digital gadgets, but less than half of the time spent is considered "educational" enough by their parents.


The study surveyed more than 1500 parents online last summer, and found that kids aged 2–4 spend "a little over two hours" on average behind a TV or mobile screen each day, and their parents believe "1 hour and 16 minutes" of the period is educational for their children. Those aged 8–10 spend over two hours and a half per day, while parents say merely 42 minutes are spent watching or interacting with educational programs or apps.


Moreover, the study discovers that poorer families claim longer educational time for their children's daily screen time: Families with an income below USD 25,000 report 57% of such screen time "educational" while the figure reported by families with an income of USD 50,000–99,000 is only 38%.


As schools are applying digital gadgets to teaching now more than ever, the author of the report, Vicki Rideout, suggested that more should be done to ensure the quality of digital media and activities after school. According to the New York Times, a secondary school teacher said that parents of his students liked to ask him to recommend educational apps, but it really took him much time to do research.


However, there are challenging voices from some parents saying such a study was not objective enough. A main flaw of this study, pointed out by a parent and writer, Dell'Antonia, was that it asked the parents surveyed to decide if a program or app was "educational" and taught skills, without giving a strict and clear definition of "what is educational". As a result, lower-income families tend to report longer educational time than the wealthy ones do, because people of different education and social backgrounds do not have the same understanding of what Dell'Antonia called "the gloss of education". As regards the tendency of younger kids spending more time on educational programs or apps according to the study, the age span of these children may be the explanation. Children of age between 2 and 10 are at the beginning to the optimal stages of absorbing information and they learn from everything they see in the world. This leaves parents with an impression that their kids learn much from the screen.


Young children inevitably get close access to digital media in an era of high technology and innovation. It is a good idea to use digital media as a means of education, but parents and teachers need to closely monitor the contents children see or interact with, and give proper instructions to them on how to use the digital resources correctly.

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