How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

There’s a controversy raging amongst parents, educational experts, and toy manufacturers to do with how much time children should be spending in front of a television screen, a computer monitor, or online, and at what age parents should permit it.

In a recent New York Times article, writer Warren Buckleitner outlines the various websites that seek to attract your children’s attention — and, in many cases, your dollars. Most of the sites require a code for entrĂ©e, usually acquired through the purchase of a toy item (Webkins, Shining Stars, Beanie Babies, and so on.) Some require a subscription, payable monthly, in order to play.

There is a strong current of feeling among independent toy store owners that use of video and computer games should not be encouraged in children below a certain age. Evidence suggests that too-early and too-frequent use of such games is linked to increasing rates of childhood obesity and ill-health through supplanting more traditional, vigorous playtime.

I would also submit that many of the skills supposedly “taught” in these games are equally — if not better — taught by interaction with parents, siblings, and friends. Colour and shape recognition, early literacy and numeracy skills, and problem-solving — all these lend themselves to face-to-face learning. There is no reason to think that the television or the computer will teach the child earlier or “better” than will the caregiver.

That’s not to say that I disapprove of or would forbid such games entirely … they are part of our culture now, for better or for worse. There have even been studies that correlate video-gaming skill with surgeons’ skill in performing certain laparoscopic surgical techniques (and I am all for having my surgeon skilled, thanks very much.) What I don’t want to see is children giving up all other activities — playing outside, lying in a hammock reading, and so on — in virtue of spending all their free time hunched in front of a monitor.

Goodness knows they will likely have more than enough of that as adults.

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