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Screen Time Might Not Be So Bad, After All?

posted: 06/16/15
by: Courtney Reimer
kids looking at an ipad or tablet
iStock

The advent of the tablet (the digital kind) has been both one of the best and worst things to happen to parents. On one hand, it's a miracle tool for keeping kids entertained on an airplane, at a restaurant, or pretty much anywhere you'd like to keep kids quiet and in one place. On the other hand, parents now hear over and over again how bad too much screen time can be for kids.

But a couple of studies have come out lately that seem to be showing promise for lovers of screen time. First off, there's the news that Sesame Street could be even better for kids than preschool when it comes to literacy and nutritional health. Now we have a study showing that the glowing screen du jour, the tablet, is not just okay but beneficial for kids as young as newborns. Why? Because tablets give a more interactive experience, which according to the developmental researcher behind the controversial new study.

"Books are static. When you observe babies with books, all they are interested in is the sound of the pages turning,"Annette Karmiloff-Smith, the aformentioned researcher, told the London Times. "Their visual system at that age is attracted by movement." She added that it's "shocking how fast they learn -- even faster than adults -- to do things like scroll up and down text." This last part is probably not news to anyone who's had an infant get hold of their phone or tablet. (Mine scrolls through photos even faster than I can process them.)

While this new research may cause screen-dependent parents breathe a sigh of relief, it does contradict oodles of other studies, which show that screens can do everything from inhibit their ability to feel emotions, according to a study from last year, to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity, according to the American Association of Pediatrics (which famously coined the "less than 2 hours per day and none for children under 2" rule).

But as with all things, it seems moderation is the best policy when it comes to screen time and kids. Or as Lisa Guernsey, director of the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative put it in Slate, we've moved from a "no screen time" world to a "mindful screen time" world. So go ahead, give the kid an iPad while you take a much-needed bathroom break. Chances are good it won't kill them.