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Discussing the Screen Dilemma: Screens in Early Childhood Education and Development

September 04, 2023
Written by 
Brian Mak
3 min read

In an era where screens have seamlessly integrated into the fabric of our lives, particularly in the realm of education for our young ones, an important question emerges:

What role should screens play in early childhood development?

The discourse surrounding screens and their impact on children often swings between alarmist narratives and the pragmatic acknowledgment that screens are an irrefutable part of our daily existence. Striking the right balance, it seems, is the most logical approach forward.

Screens in our lives are undeniable, be it for education, entertainment, or communication. With this in mind, the screen dilemma shifts from a binary choice of screen or no screen to a nuanced evaluation of the type of screen - the type of content, duration, and intention of screen time.

screens are not inherently good or bad; it is the content and intent that determine if the use of time for technology is good or bad.

Let’s draw a parallel between food and screen time. Using sugar as an analogy; Sugar can be beneficial (complex sugars from fruits and vegetables) but also detrimental (simple, processed sugars). Similarly, screens are not inherently good or bad; it is the content and intent that determine if the use of time for technology is good or bad. Some content is like sugary treats–designed to be addictive and not all that good for you. This type of screen time is crafted to captivate attention and keep children engrossed. Let's take Cocomelon, for example. Cocomelon is strategically designed to hold a child's attention, potentially at the cost of diminishing interest in the “real world"...that is, maybe the child doesn't want to engage, but instead spend all day watching Cocomelon. “Good” screen time might look something that reminds to you look up and take a breath of fresh air, or something that is meant to teach you and enhance hard and soft skills.

The giants in the streaming industry, like Netflix and YouTube, are expanding into gaming, emphasizing not just entertainment but the capture of a person's available time. Meta, with its focus on maximum engagement, raises concerns about the addictive nature of screen interaction.

Crucially, it comes down to this. What are we and these companies actually trying to optimize for? Is it pure entertainment, productive use of time, character building, or keeping you on the app at all costs (unintentionally fostering addictive behaviors)? Drawing a comparison between family sitcoms and traditional media, both entertaining in their ways, family-centric shows often intertwine amusement with the reinforcement of healthy moral values, and breaks (albeit commercial ones)!

Understanding the objectives becomes paramount. Again, what are we optimizing for, and, equally crucial, what are the companies and advertisers optimizing for? Netflix's explicit objective is competing for user time, prompting reflection on how our children's limited time is being filled within this competitive landscape.

It's not a "yes" to screens or "no" to screens; it's a question about what "type of screens" our kids should be consuming.

All in all, the screen debate in early childhood education necessitates a shift from a one-size-fits-all perspective to a discerning evaluation of content consumed, intent, and objectives. It's not a "yes" to screens or "no" screens; it's a question about what "type of screens" our kids should be consuming. As parents and educators, it becomes imperative to question not just the duration but the substance of what our kids are watching and playing. What we choose to optimize for will inevitably shape the developmental landscape for the generations growing up in this digitally immersive age. The dialogue should extend beyond screen time quotas, focusing instead on the quality and purpose of the content that shapes young minds. What, indeed, should we be optimizing for? Perhaps, this holds the key to ensuring screens contribute positively to the holistic development of our children.