Parents all know that less screen time is best when it comes to children’s daily experiences.
After all, researchers have focused strongly on the effects of screen time on young children and governments have put in place recommendations for time children spend on screens to ensure they meet the recommended physical movement guidelines.
However, that focus is changing to the content children are watching and their surrounding environment during screen time.
Even parents are turning to online parenting forums to ask whether the post-screen time tantrum is a result of the type of content as opposed to the screen itself.
“Unless children are watching television all day, time alone is not going to determine the impacts on children’s behaviour,” explains Brittany Huber, Fellow at Center for Scholars and Storytellers.
“The content of what children are watching is a huge piece of the puzzle, as well as, making sure the content is developmentally appropriate for that particular child.”
Before we look at what good content for a children’s television show looks like, Huber notes that parents don’t need to feel guilty for their children’s screen time use.
“Think of your child’s day-to-day activities like a balanced diet, like you would for their meals,” she says.
“A day spent only engaged in ‘less nutritious’ activities could mean that children aren’t getting all that they need, such as physical activity, social interaction, play, rest, etc.
“It is also important to note that infants don’t learn from television, although sometimes television can be just for fun, but research does show that having the television on in the background interferes with language development in infants.”
She also advises parents to model the screen-time behaviour they want to see in their children as children’s screen media habits can be related to their parents’ use.
What makes a good children’s television show?
Research has shown that content definitely matters.
In 2015, Deborah Nichols found that children who were assigned to watch a literacy show outperformed their study peers in prereading skills, compared to children who were assigned to watch an educational science series.
While a different study found that children who watched violent or entertaining television before the age of three had an increased risk of attention problems five years later. But there was no such risk with educational content.
Huber and her colleagues found that content had a significant effect on children’s executive functioning performance – their working memory, flexible thinking and self-control.
After playing an educational app, children were more likely to delay gratification than after viewing a cartoon.
Children’s working memory also improved after playing the educational app. They found that, while taking the child’s age into consideration, interactivity and content were key factors to consider during screen time.