Screen time vs. screen quality: Tablets and children’s social skills

Parents and educators are turning their focus to the quality of the content children watch as opposed to the amount of screen time they get.

By Clement Chau, Ph.D.

LeapFrog Learning Expert

As the children and media expert on the Learning Team, Clement primarily works on toys and digital products related to social studies, creativity, life skills and early childhood development. Before joining LeapFrog, he was an early education consultant, a media literacy researcher at the MIT Comparative Media Studies department, a researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, and a researcher and lecturer at the Tufts University Developmental Technologies Research Group. Clement received his PhD from Tufts University's Eliot Pearson Department of Child Development and completed his dissertation on evaluating children's mobile apps.

Although we don’t know the full neurological effects of digital technologies on young children’s development, we do know that all screen time is not created equal. For example, reading an ebook, videoconferencing with Grandma, or showing your child a picture you just took of them is not the same as the passive, television watching screen time that concerns many parents and educators.

So, rather than focusing on how much children are interacting with screens, parents and educators are turning their focus instead to what children are interacting with and who is talking with them about their experiences. Though parents may be tempted to hand a child a screen and walk away, guiding children’s media experiences helps them build important 21st Century skills, such as critical thinking and media literacy. 

In short, screen quality matters a lot. And, as the app market continues to grow, it becomes more difficult to find high quality content. With little gatekeeping, it’s up to parents to sort through the plethora of options to find what’s safe, age-appropriate, educational and fun for their child. For some guidance on choosing the best games for your child, check out Dr. Jody Sherman LeVos’ Kids’ Games Buying Guide for Parents.

More resources: 

The Child, the Tablet and the Developing Mind, The New York Times

Media and Children, American Academy of Pediatrics