Importance of human interaction  (Gertie  being read to by mom)

Importance of human interaction

In the epilogue to Screen Time by Lisa Guersey we get a chance to see just how fast things are changing when it comes to media. At the same time we are able to get a glimpse of some troubling facts regarding habits of parents and producers of contents.  To better understand this it’s important to put things into perspective.

One thing that Lisa makes very clear to readers is that children are exposed to a significant amount of television programming. Prior to looking at what Lisa is saying it’s important for those of us who are parents, and those who do not have children of their own, that each person has a different take on what is are acceptable norms for the amount of time their child can spend watching or interacting with media content. Notice I used the term interacting with. The reason I did it is to emphasize what has shifted in time while Lisa was writing her book.

For the record I have two daughters. Since much time has passed since they were little girls, it is hard for me to reflect and see how much time they would spend watching programs on television, video cassettes or playing a game on the computer. Through her investigative research Lisa shows us that there are changes that are taking place in the way young children are being exposed to media. But let’s agree on one thing Lisa mentions; for many years children of all ages have been viewing content and research of some kind or another has been following these trends.  Now let me bring more specifics on what Lisa addresses.

In her Epilogue Lisa mentions that children of various young ages are exposed to content that may not be suited for their age group. One example she brings to our attention through studies is of Sponge-Bob Square Pants. According to Nickelodeon, the producers of the show, the program is not aimed at the young audience mentioned by Lisa through the research that was done. I am not certain how bringing up merchandising of product for younger children is an indicator that they watch the program. Never the less, Lisa is bringing up a valid point that there are many shows being viewed by children and the content of the show is not specifically aimed at this audience. What can we learn from this? Is someone to blame?

Lisa brings several examples of interactivity that happens between the content and those who are interacting with it. For example she points to a study done with young children viewing a program where the parent of the child is there but not interacting as compared with another group of parents that do interact with the child while the content is playing. Since there is encouragement from the care taker the research would show more results. However what Lisa points out in her epilogue is that now we have come to a stage where the interactivity level with the media is easier for the viewer and can become more engaging. However researchers have yet to catch up and implement studies that have merit.  Lisa has shared several studies that she brings to our attention with significant problems. Emerging technology is being adopted so rapidly be consumers that educators and researchers have not had time to build tool or conduct enough studies to evaluate the way young children are affected by the use of these new touch screen devices.

Lisa addresses several time that what is at stake is the wellbeing of the child that should always be kept as a focal point. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case. Lisa even points out the example in her own house where she has to put her foot down and tell her own children when media use is over but she points out many examples where adults may not be willing to either put up a fight with their children or use the media device- TV, DVD, computer, touch screen device such as a Nook or iPad as a babysitting device that grabs the child’s attention. However, as she points out in studies, there is repeated evidence that shows s lower development in children that are just viewing media on their own without an adult. But what does this say about new interactive media? Yes. Lisa mentioned that there are many apps being developed for young children. How we evaluate their effectiveness and impact on children is one of the question Lisa would like to answer. She asks: “If media is going to be part of their lives, shouldn’t we know a little more about when it can or cannot be useful to them?

What roles should parents play with regards to interactive media? I think back on when I started letting my daughters first use (1995) Reader Rabbit by The Learning Company. How often would I sit there with my child? When did I decide it was time to limit the amount of time they spent with the program? Like many parents I also read books to my children before bed. Once they were able to grasp it on their own they read to themselves. Should there be research that looks at when it’s ok to let go of parent engagement? Lisa asks:” Could science get more precise about how much a child might be able to learn from media with little assistance from mom and dad?” My question becomes what app will they use to test their theories? What book do we measure to know if a child is an independent reader? There are many questions that do not have a direct answer.

Child development researchers are faced with many tough questions these days. Over the years there have been wonderful programs produced by television networks that have helped children learn and develop. Yet at the same time I reflect and remember Drew Barrymore playing Gertie and being in front of the TV set while no one was watching her and learning how to spell.  Lisa mentions Dash from showing up on the screen and asking kids if they had enough. Surely there must be better ways we can limit use of technology, or should we?

Many times I have seen young parents glued to their smart devices and ignoring their children. If there is one thing I take away from what Lisa has brought to our attention is that we can’t ignore the impact that parents have on the development of their children. As educators and care givers we can’t just stick a child in front of a screen with a movie or iPad. We must follow it up with questions about the content. Sure that a computer application can do this today. However what can be seen in the clip below is that in the early years of child development. It is very important to focus on the child and not to let them be by themselves. Watch with them, read with them and most importantly interact with them. A computer will never take the place of another human being because human interaction is above all what is important in social development.

Guernsey, L. (2007). Screen time. Epilogue (pp.. 253 – 257)