Media Mentorship, Diversity and Inclusion, and the Screen Time Symposium

The Screen Time Symposium, a collaboration between the Developmental Media Lab and the Erikson Institute, was held September 9th in Chicago. Organized by Carly Kocurek and Jennifer Miller, this interdisciplinary symposium raised many “provocations” around digital media for young people—all of which are relevant to our work as youth services librarians, and especially as media mentors, working to select the best tools and apps for the children we serve.

Chip Donohue of the TEC Center at Erikson Institute opened the symposium asking us to stop thinking about how much screen time is or is not appropriate, and instead challenging us to ask: “How do we rethink screen time as an adult issue first?” Asking how many screens we each had with us at the conference, we realized that most of us at least two (a smart phone and a laptop), and some had more (including iPads, etc.). As screen consumers ourselves, what behavior are we modeling to our children? And how can we teach parents to be media mentors to their own children?

From an opportunity to experiment with the latest tech toys with Tamara Kaldor from the TEC Institute, to a workshop on the design process and prototyping with Gretchen Rinnert from Kent State University’s School of Visual Communication Design, the day was filled with thought-provoking keynotes, panels, and workshops. Woven throughout the day, was a call for diversity and inclusion: from diverse researchers (Kelly Bergstrom), to diverse designers, and for diverse and inclusive content—something that is (still) seriously lacking in the market place.

Karen Nemeth of Language Castle got everyone singing along with her rousing, Spanish-language rendition of the participatory song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Her passionate talk about bilingual apps was alternately thought-provoking, and hilarious. I am still thinking about one of her provocations: “Why don’t we describe [immigrant] children as having an additional language asset instead of calling them English Language Learners?” In reality, is it not those who speak only English who are at a disadvantage? By changing the descriptors, we can change the attitudes.

Karen also described fatal flaws within many “bilingual” apps. She showed a screenshot from one such app that had a picture of three ice cream cones, which collectively spelled C-A-T—for no logical reason. Instead of forcing bilingual content onto apps, Karen advocates for creating quality monolingual apps, that are correctly done.

During the early days of Spanish-language imprints at publishing companies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, publishers would translate English language content into Spanish, and then squeeze into the existing book design. In the case of print, the best bilingual books are born bilingual. The same is true for apps. Instead of arbitrarily offering multi-language options, it is best to design them as such from the beginning–or alternately, leave them monolingual.

While Kabir Seth of the Diversity in Apps Board was not at the symposium, his call for including producers and designers to be aware of diversity from the very beginning of a project. His short article: Developing Children’s Media with Diversity in Mind connected with the overarching theme of the conference, and is well worth a read. As he writes: “We are … nudging the conversation towards a focus on the teams of producers and creators responsible for all the decisions that go into the finished product” (Seth, 2016, para. 2).

There were also celebrity sightings at the symposium, including Rick Fernandes of the Fred Rogers Institute, and our very own past president Andrew Medlar!

Overall, the message of the conference was that we are all in this together, and there is much to be learned from our colleagues in fields from education, to psychology, to design. Apparently a Screen Time Symposium 2017 is in the works – you might want to consider going!


Today’s guest post was written by Marianne Martens, Ph.D. Dr. Martens is an Assistant Professor at Kent State University in the School of Library and Information Science.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

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