“Screen time” is bad for children. “Screen time” shouldn’t enter into professional discourse concerning services for children in libraries. “Screen time” is detrimental to our professional practice and distracts from the core values of librarianship.
The phrase “screen time” is not something we should be using anymore, because it’s a misnomer. What most people mean when they talk about the evils of “screen time” is passive media: television. Reading an ebook, videoconferencing with grandma and grandpa, or showing a child a picture that you’ve just taken of them is NOT the mind-numbing, passive time-waster that concerns many parents, educators, researchers and librarians. The fact that something is on a screen does not make it inherently bad, and the emphasis on time is also a red herring. If a child is thoroughly engaged in editing his or her own video, learning a programming language, videoconferencing with a pen pal, or reading/writing/designing an ebook, are you really going to say:
Ok kid! That’s it! You’ve had your *insert random time limit here*! Stop everything you’re doing and come *do some other thing that will require a re-focusing of attention and may not be nearly as engaging*!?
What matters most is the content, and then the context in which it is being used; that’s always been the case, and a change in format shouldn’t have the kind of power to shake the core principles of our profession (i.e. we fight censorship, we don’t engage in it). Blanket statements about the use of “screens” are simplistic and not very useful to anyone. Not all screens are created equal, and we have to stop knee-jerk reactions that lump all sorts of societal and pedagogical concerns into a single assumption; that if the use of a screen is permitted, it’s going to eclipse everything else we do in our libraries.
“Screen time” is often blamed for all sorts of things: ADHD, obesity, Autism, social disorders, parental neglect, and others. I’ve also heard concerns that violence, commercialism and free access to the internet are all dangerous for children, thus access to screens should be strictly limited. I’ve heard people say that there are pedophiles on Facebook, so we shouldn’t be using apps in storytime. (I’m serious! I’ve heard this more than once!) The accusations against “screen time” go on and on, so please; let’s just stop using the phrase “screen time.”
Unless of course, you’re talking about the book.
We do need a new set of vocabulary to refer to these new information packages. I met Warren Buckleitner at Dust or Magic this past weekend and he uses the term “narrative-driven interactive media” to refer to book-like things that exist digitally and have some kind of interactive element. That’s a librarian-worthy conversation that should continue. Digital immigrants like us need to re-examine our assumptions about what the word “literacy” means, and how our libraries need to support the development of early literacy skills for a new generation of people (digital natives) who require a vastly different skill set than the ones we needed.
Check out Chip Donohue’s recent ALSC webinar, Young Children & Media: Libraries in the Multi-Touch, Multi-Screen World and Warren Buckleitner’s Three Words for Digital-Age Parents: Access, Balance and Support for more thoughts on this topic.
And please; let’s have no more talk of “screen time.”