Is school-required screen time bad for young children?

For his online schooling this past spring, my grandson, then a kindergartener, was asked to use online learning daily from the end of March to the end of May.  That screen time included

  • Two hours weekly in Zoom conferences with his teacher and a handful of other students. Usually the teacher taught a skill, like reading words beginning with digraphs.
  • An hour and a half weekly on a math site doing basic addition and subtraction in a game-like presentation.
  • Another hour and a half weekly on a language arts site, reading three-letter words and sight words in a game-like presentation.
  • Daily listening to two books being read aloud at Scholastic, a publisher’s website. The total time varied but was no more than a half hour daily, although my grandson liked this activity and often listened for up to an hour.  His three-year-old brother regularly joined him.

That adds up to more than seven hours weekly of school-required screen time for a five-year-old.

Many parents, working from home with little children underfoot during the pandemic, are allowing more screen time.  An iPad and earplugs can keep a child quiet during a conference call.  Daniel Tiger and Molly from Denali can give parents quiet time to think.  Alphablocks and Numberblocks can teach letter sounds and number meanings while parents take a breather.

All that screen time is not benign.  Children can pay for it by crying when the TV is turned off or by throwing tantrums when the computer is taken away.  Some children withdraw from usual activities or gain weight.  Some children seem unaffected.

My daughter reminds me that many years ago my son and I often tussled over his video game watching.  That son today writes apps for a living.  And it’s a good living.

As I write, my grandson is begging his mother to watch a particular video game.  “It’s educational, Mom!”  He says that often, hoping the word “educational” will make her amenable to more screen time.

The problem is where to draw the line.  How much screen time is too much screen time?

The temperament of the child probably matters.  An introverted child might crave quiet time alone with his electronic equipment.  An extroverted child might tire quickly of quiet time and prefer to be engaged with people.

Quieter children might prefer screen time while more fidgety children might prefer running, jumping, swimming and biking.

I suspect that right now researchers are collecting data about how required screen time during this pandemic is affecting young students.  For now the jury is out.  Still, parents beware.

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