Monday, 20 October 2014

Blurring the boundaries of "screen time"

I seem to have a bit of a soft spot for children's picture books that make a commentary on reading and interaction in the internet age (I wrote about Lane Smith's It's a book here). The newest one to come into my hands is Dot by Randi Zuckerberg and illustrated by Joe Berger. With cheerful illustrations and playful language it tells the story of a little girl called Dot, who "knows a lot". She's an ace with all different types of "screens":

Eventually Dot gets that familiar feeling of screen-time overload. She goes all cross-eyed and disorientated, so that her mom sends her to play outside.

Once outside in the sun, she remembers that she also knows how...

in the real world. The book is charming in it's reminder to leave the virtual world behind sometimes and give ourselves the opportunity to interact and play in the real one.

Having just said that, I have to admit to spending quite a bit of time reading articles via twitter on my phone (very handy with a hungry baby to feed and only one hand free). A New York Times article I recently came across asks the very pertinent question of whether E-Reading to your toddler counts as story time or screen time. The question is of course very relevant as more and more children's books are turned into interactive E-books for tablets, and parents are faced with endless choices of toddler and even baby entertainment for different screens.

According to the article, even the experts aren't sure. What is certain, is that pediatricians and child-development experts advise parents to read to their children regularly from an early age. They also advise no screen time for children under the age of two and less than two hours a day for older children. Where, then, does e-reading fall?

There doesn't seem to be much research out there yet, but the New York Times article points out that a handful of new studies suggest "reading to a child from an electronic device undercuts the dynamic that drives language development". It refers to a 2013 study, Once Upon A Time: Parent-child Dialogue and Storybook Reading in the Electronic Era, which found that 3-5 year olds whose parents read to them using a tablet had lower comprehension rates of the story than those children who were read to using a traditional book. Part of the problem, the researchers explain, was that parents and children using tablets spent more time focusing on the device than on the story. As the stories become more and more interactive in an E-format (which obviously does comes with educational advantages), the focus shifts away from the parent-child dialogue that springs up from the more old-fashioned forms of story time. Researchers have stressed that it is this early conversation around stories that assists language development. The New York Times article quotes Dr Hirsh-Pasek, who sums it up well, "In other words, it's being talked with, not being talked at that teaches children language."

So I guess, Dot does know a lot; we need to strike a healthy balance between the virtual world and the real one.


  1. Hello Typewriter...I have a fondness for children's books and this one is now on the list for me to order for the grandchildren. Thank you for introducing me.

    1. It's a very endearing little book. I share your sentiment; think my kid is just a thinly veiled excuse for buying children's books!



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