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Some Screen Time Can Actually Be Good For Kids

Kids watching shows

A moderate amount of screen time is seen by parents as both a needed rest-period for children and a nice break for parents, with little else to be gained.  Some parents even worry that anything beyond the suggested amount of iPad-watching can cause a child to be mesmerized beyond a healthy state.  But that actually might not be the case. There is a growing body of research and subsequent findings that highlight actual benefits of having our children watch videos, within specific guidelines.

As you explore these guidelines, you’ll likely build up your assurance that some video watching can bring our children meaningful education, solid formations of understanding, opportunities for expanded learning and positive bonding experiences.

Tool for Engagement

If you have the time, the far best way for your kids to watch shows is with you by their side.  The typical answer to the question “What was that movie about?” Usually the answer a parent gets is “nothing”, or maybe a little more like “dinosaurs”, and that’s all.  However, consider how different both your question and your child’s answer will be should you have watched that movie together. You can ask stimulating questions and encourage your child to imagine alternative endings. These shared experiences can be relaxing, but also educational, across generations and perspectives. It seems that the benefits lie in co-watching and a body of research on this topic has identified and named this action “contingent engagement,” the very sharing of the viewing and activity participating in the entertainment with your child.

Opportunity for New Skills

The magic of video may rest for us in its 2D presentation, beyond what a physical book can achieve. Of course, the printed word should not be dismissed, and children must have their reading skills emphasized, practiced and rewarded. Switch off the sound and turn on the captions -- now your child is reading!  Switch from English to Spanish and your child is practicing a foreign language.

Kids Learn More

Expanded analysis of young children watching known as “educational programming” has found an enhanced retention when their parents or caregivers are sharing the experience. Seems that active parenting in this experience develops a shared language with your child which serves up benefits of communication and understanding long past the watching experience. Additionally, kids who were fortunate to watch educational shows teaching them early math skills with their adult friends retained the knowledge significantly more than those kids who watched the same shows alone.

Inspires Exploration

Broadening our horizons, literally with travel and being with others, has certainly taken its own vacation this past year. Most of us, kids included, have been isolated for their health but not for their pleasure or education. Thus, consider the breath of scope that many types of children’s programming can provide us all. Many shows are designed for extensive adventure such as the History Channel and others for very focused exploration such as Dora the Explorer. Viewers of all ages are invited to imagine themselves in different places, different time periods and different cultures, way beyond that a book of similar topics can offer. Then, imagine for yourself how these visits can lead to interesting conversations, art projects, dress-up themes and then a trip to the library for books! Many family vacations can start from these lessons.

Our local community, including work and school, is our most known environment. How can we safely expose our children to many of the different cultures around our exciting globe? Again, consider the magic of children’s programming, often dedicated to the presentation and celebration of inclusion and diversity. How special this viewing can be for the child and grownup, one sharing their dreams of travel and the other their memories of travel.

There is of course research seeming to describe bad effects of childhood television watching but much of the studies are decades old, and thus not incorporating new technology and advancements in the science of child development. Among these declared ill effects include misdirecting very young children from activities that work to positively develop the young brain, including the development of language, creativity and motor skills.  There is also a body of work documenting a correlation between television watching and childhood obesity. This science should be considered, respected and balanced with moderation and creative parenting. Moderation as an overriding consideration, along with supervision, joint viewing, informative programming, and current and post-interactions, all of which may move the needle from not very beneficial to a very helpful part of a child’s development.

Dr. Randee Bloom, RN, MBA, PhD is a retired nurse and healthcare administrator. She has a PhD in nonprofit management and serves on the board of several national healthcare nonprofits. Dr. Bloom is a national volunteer ambassador for AARP and two of her children, Ashley and Zack, are the founders of Heirloom. Dr. Bloom's own mother is in her 90's and is forced to remain isolated to protect her health as COVID-19 remains uncontrolled.