From WPT Education: Kids and Screen Time

October 20, 2017 Wisconsin Public Television Leave a Comment

Why is it so hard to give a 2-year-old a device?  Is it because we feel guilty?   

Sara DeWitt, Vice President of PBS Kids Digital, recorded a TED talk about the anxiety we have that a cell phone will “interrupt childhood.”  She covers the three concerns we have with devices and young children and demystifies them.

These three concerns are:

1. Screens are passive

2. Playing games is a waste of time

3. Screens isolate children from caregivers

Screens can be incredibly interactive for young children.  Here in Wisconsin, you can walk into an elementary classroom and see students practicing yoga, sensory breaks and even mindfulness from technology tools.  Sara DeWitt highlights a PBS Wild Kratts game for encouraging movement, children are encouraged to pretend they are bats and move around swooping for a mosquito snack. 

(You may be familiar with WPT’s annual Get Up and Go! Day, stay tuned for more tools and tips for you to use year-round to encourage healthy habits coming from our WPT Education team soon!)

DeWitt has worked on a study where preschoolers learned about math concepts from playing Curious George games and how test scores could be predicted based on the preschoolers’ score in the math game.  This is an incredibly powerful learning tool for students and educators.   

Screens only isolate children from adults if adults don’t talk and interact with children about their screen time.  PBS Kids show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood can help teach children about empathy if they watch it with adults and talk about it after, according to a recent study.

View Sara DeWitt’s TED Talk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidelines for young children and screens in 2016: 

The AAP recommends parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers. Some media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it’s critically important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS. Parents of young children should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing … For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.”

Heather Kirkorian, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in Human Development & Family Studies School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  “Sara DeWitt presents a refreshingly balanced approach to digital media and young children that is consistent with a growing body of research. She very accurately states that media use – even television watching – is not a passive activity. As Sara DeWitt conveys, the best research says that we should focus more on the content and context of media use, rather than treating all media use as one invariable activity.”  You can view Dr. Kirkorian’s research here.

Not all digital media is great for children.  It is important, as adults, that we talk to our children about what they are doing on devices.  It is especially important for adults of young children to monitor the options we give children on devices.  I personally feel confident recommending PBS Kids apps, games, and interactive media as learning tools for young children.  

Sarah Boatman, M. Ed. is an Early Learning Specialist at Wisconsin Public Television Education. 

For more information on WPT Education and free educational resources, visit

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