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Why All Screen Time Is Not Created Equal

By Christy Matte

Not long ago, I found myself chatting with another mom about kids and computers. I was talking about how important it is that kids learn very basic computer skills at home when she interrupted me with, “We don’t allow our kids to use the computer.” This response never fails to surprise me, although I hear it a lot, but she then followed up with, “And I’m sure you’ll think this is awful, but we don’t let them watch TV, either.”

I responded with my very best blank stare, because this was an unexpected non-sequitur. Not only are the two concepts unrelated, but I would never recommend television-watching for someone else’s kids. Moreover, I was confused as to why banning TV was somehow worse than banning a computer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a large role to play in the misconception by parents that all media/screen time is created equal. The AAP recommendations on screen time are muddied, with a clear emphasis on research related to television viewing and violent video games, and a dearth of data related to creative/productive computer use, or even the use of tablets and e-readers by families.

This leads to a nationwide misconception that passive television viewing is equivalent to interactive use of a computer or tablet. And while we all agree that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy, kids partake in plenty of other “recommended” sedentary activities, such as reading, building with blocks, and doing puzzles. There is a role in our lives for sedentary play, as well as active play.

Computers, tablets, and other interactive devices have a lot to offer our children. Here are just a few examples of positive benefits:

  • Developing problem solving skills by playing puzzle games such as Plants vs. Zombies, or learning new software such as Scratch.
  • Finding a voice by starting a blog (safety first!), or reviewing products and services at KidzVuz.com.
  • Expressing yourself through art, music, or video, like these kids from the Computer Clubhouse program.

The bottom line is that a computer, unlike a television, is a tool for learning, creativity, communication, design, calculation, and more. As parents, we have the opportunity to teach our kids about responsible computer use, safety, and time management. But we can only do that if we give them the opportunity to sit down with us and explore. Otherwise, kids learn from peers, the school, and on their own, without any input from us.

Kids all over the world are doing amazing things with technology. It is not something to be afraid of or avoided. Instead, it is something to be harnessed. So, if you choose to recycle all of your TVs, feel free. But don’t dump the family computer as well. There’s a world waiting to be discovered and created if you open your mind and take the time.

Christy Matte is a Boston-based freelance writer and consultant, who is passionate about education and technology and the intersection of the two. She blogs at QuirkyFusion.com and Quirky-Tech.com, and contributes to Common Sense Media. A mom to two kids, Christy is also the co-founder of Boston Parent Bloggers.

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