I’m troubled by an apparent split over children’s screen time between the guardians of children’s health and the guardians of their education. The public health community, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, is intensifying efforts to set limits on the amount of time young children spend with screen technology—one to two hours per day for older children and no screen time for babies and toddlers.
Meanwhile, the National Association for the Education of Young Children—the nation’s premier professional organization for early childhood educators—recently released a draft of its statement on children and technology which advocates incorporating screens into all early childhood programs and pointedly does not advocate for limits on screen time. As it stands, NAEYC’s position on children and technology actually undermines the growing public health movement to reduce children’s screen time.
What’s sad for me is that I associate NAEYC with the important mid-twentieth century movement toward whole child development—which highlighted the importance of recognizing children not just as minds or bodies, but as complex beings with intertwining physical, emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual needs. There’s a dearth of credible evidence that introducing babies, toddlers, or even preschoolers to computers, phone apps, and video games is beneficial to their long-term learning and academic success. And the convergence of ubiquitous, miniaturized screen technology and unregulated commercialism is wreaking havoc with children’s hands on creative play—which we know is essential to healthy brain development. But even if screens were proven to be excellent learning tools for young children (and I repeat, they’re not), given the links between screen time and childhood obesity, it would still be important for educators to take a stand with the American Academy of Pediatrics, The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity and others to urge early childhood professionals to limit screens in their classrooms and work with parents to limit screens at home.