With everything competing for your child’s attention these days, you may be wondering if screen time is bad for kids. It used to be all we had to do was turn off the television and video games to get some reading time in, but now there is a computer attached to our hands and within easy reach and influence of your child, too. In your quest to raise a lifelong reader, you will be challenged with the question of whether screen time is bad for kids and how much screen time you will allow in your home. Let’s get started!
Is Screen Time Bad for Kids?
There is an interesting study that talks about how different forms of reading and media impact a child’s brain. Here is the link; I encourage you to read it because it’s important. What’s Going on in Your Child’s Brain When You Read Them a Story?
I’m going to summarize and emphasize a few things for you here so you can make a decision on whether you think screen time is bad for kids.
It’s sort of like the Goldilocks story.
Audible only: If a child is only hearing a story like via a CD or audible book, it’s too cold. In other words, some parts of the brain area activated but without pictures, the child is straining harder to understand the story.
Video and Animation: This was too hot. In other words, too much visual and auditory stimulation does not allow children time to reflect on what they are hearing, resulting in less comprehension as well.
Books: What was the just-right combination? You guessed it! Listening to a storybook while seeing the pictures. You reading with and to your child and modeling what good readers do!
Overwhelmed by the demands of processing language, without enough practice, they may also be less skilled at forming mental pictures based on what they read, much less reflecting on the content of a story. This is the stereotype of a “reluctant reader” whose brain is not well-versed in getting the most out of a book. — from What’s Going on in Your Child’s Brain When You Read Them a Story?
This study was done with MRI imaging of the brain while children (ages 3–5) were exposed to different stimuli.
What this tells us is that reading books to your child is still the best thing you can do to support brain development that will give them the skills they need to be strong readers.
This doesn’t mean that animated video and listening to stories are bad, just limit these for young children.
If Screen Time Is Bad for Kids What Options Do You Have?
Use Audio Books in Place of Screen Time
Audiobooks are still a great option for when sitting with a book on your lap is not possible and should be used in place of screen time whenever possible (see the results of the studies above). Think of all the many places and opportunities you have to use audible books.
- driving in the car — both everyday errands or long road trips. (of course, keep a bag of books in the car too)
- while taking a bath or doing chores
- as a follow up to a book you’ve read together — especially if children loved the book, they’ll want to be reunited with their favorite characters.
Other ways to use audiobooks
- Audiobooks can support reluctant or struggling readers or those with a reading disability. Sometimes hearing the story first and then reading the book is helpful. It builds background knowledge and familiarizes them with new vocabulary words or difficult names etc. A dyslexic child might find it helpful to listen to the audiobook while following along with the words on the page.
- Movies from books. By all means, check these out. I like to read the book first, then watch the movie only because 9/10 times the book is better, but there are some wonderful movies that have been made from children’s books and are certainly worthy of seeing.
Some of my favorite Audio Books Instead of Screen Time
Because of Winn-Dixie
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Some movies or television shows your child may have seen already, have books that are less known because the movie or television show is a classic. These books are worth reading too and make great read alouds and bedtime stories!
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Wizard of Oz
More on How Screen Time Impacts a Child’s Brain vs. Reading
Technology conditions the brain to pay attention to information very differently than reading. The metaphor that Nicholas Carr uses is the difference between scuba diving and jet skiing. Book reading is like scuba diving in which the diver is submerged in a quiet, visually restricted, slow-paced setting with few distractions and, as a result, is required to focus narrowly and think deeply on the limited information that is available to them. In contrast, using the Internet is like jet skiing, in which the jet skier is skimming along the surface of the water at high speed, exposed to a broad vista, surrounded by many distractions, and only able to focus fleetingly on any one thing. — from How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus
Screen Time Isn’t ALL Bad: using apps and online reading programs
It’s important to use discretion when using online reading programs or apps for reading/phonics practice. There are some good ones, some okay ones, and some awful ones.
The main thing to remember is that no reading program or animated phonics practice can replace what you do with your child using real children’s books and targeted practice aimed at their needs and strengths.
Use these programs as you would use salt in your meals, for some added flavor but don’t count on them for much nutrition. And most importantly, don’t spend a lot of money on them!
Here are some that I would recommend (this is not at all-inclusive but pertains to my personal experience and knowledge of the tool)
A Final Note on Screen Time and Technology in all Forms
Nothing is all bad or all good. Use a lot of caution with children under the age of six whose brains are still acquiring the ability to pay attention and sustain attention and persevere at a task. Reading stamina is needed in order to become a strong reader. A child’s brain that has been programmed with fast action and snippets may not be able to sustain in order to read with accuracy and comprehension.
Use all technology sparingly, be a good role model with technology, and err on the side of caution.
New research is coming in every day on the effect of digital devices on kids, so keep reading about the updates and make wise choices as you invest in your child as a lifelong reader.
Take some time to look through the articles and research here and think about how much you want your child to be exposed to technology and what you can do to eliminate some of that if it’s too much, or safeguards you can put in place to monitor over-exposure.