Smoke Screen: A Cautionary Tale of the AppYour child wants to create a sock puppet. There’s an app for that. Your child wants to have a tea party with friends. There’s an app for that. It’s time for bed, and your child wants to hear a story. There’s an app for that, too. Come on, screen time at bedtime?
By: Lisbeth Boutang, Pine Journal
Your child wants to create a sock puppet. There’s an app for that. Your child wants to have a tea party with friends. There’s an app for that. It’s time for bed, and your child wants to hear a story. There’s an app for that, too. Come on, screen time at bedtime?
The reality of electronic options for human interactions with children troubles me on so many levels I do not know where to begin.
When I discovered “Goodnight Moon” — a beloved bedtime classic — was now available in an app, something inside of me crushed like a tin can, only that tin can was the memory of my mother telling me vibrant tales while she ironed the wash. Granted, a device of sorts (the iron) separated my mother and me, but it had nothing to do with the telling of the story. In fact, she never hesitated to set the iron upright if she needed to punctuate the tale with a sweeping gesture. We had a grand time, and the ironing got done.
In just a few years, tablet and app technology sales have exploded into multi-billion-dollar markets … the spoils of an all-too-familiar consumer reflex to acquire the latest technologies in media devices. The hidden costs of those impulses have yet to emerge as purchasing preempts — by years — critical research on the use of these pervasive devices and their effects. Regrettably, toddlers and preschoolers represent the largest group of app users among children.
What lit the fire in my belly? I recently attended a session titled “Screen Time and Early Literacy Development” at the annual conference of the Minnesota Library Association. Three crucial ingredients were recommended for early literacy successes:
+ Face-to-face interaction with other human beings.
+ Opportunities for children to manipulate and explore their worlds.
+ Open-ended free play. Young imaginations are muscles which thrive on experiential learning.
While the long-term effects of electronic devices on early learners are unavailable, a lot is already known:
+ Preschool-age children consume 32 hours of TV weekly.
+ The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than age 2 and recommends limiting older children’s screen time to no more than one or two hours a day.
+ Too much screen time has been linked to childhood obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, violence and less time for play.
Perception plays a vital role in society’s endorsement of new things. The more parents believe media is educational, the more they will use it. In truth, children weaned on screens do not learn as well, and the dangers of “distraction” make a quick case to set limits on screen time: Fifty percent of parents now own electronic tablets and 80 percent own “Smart” phones. Opportunities for distraction and injuries while using these devices — among toddlers, teens and adults — are on the rise.
What adults do affects the wellbeing of children, whether you are a parent, mentor, media specialist, grandmother, teacher, celebrity, etc. Adults must be willing to examine their use and/or abuse of electronic devices and how they may be using them unwittingly or intentionally as educational or communication tools with the earliest of learners. Our use of electronic devices certainly influences the model we are setting for children today and generations to come.
For more information on the subject, a few good nonfiction titles are: “Screen Time: How Electronic Media — From Baby Videos to Educational Software — Affects Your Young Child” by Lisa Guernsey; “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” by Catherine Steiner-Adair; and “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr.
Opportunities for story times, hands-on programs and creative play remain available at the Cloquet Public Library. On Saturday, Nov. 2, The Duluth Children’s Museum will present “Wings of Fancy,” an opportunity to build and test an air rocket, free of charge, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the library. Children grades 2 and up are welcome. Pre-registration is a must. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Duluth Art Institute will host a family workshop on Metal Tooling for kids ages 7 and up at 8 p.m. at the library. For details, call the library at 218-879-1531.
Lisbeth Boutang is the children’s librarian at Cloquet Public Library.