Most of the parents I speak with worry about screen time.
I’m a so-called ‘expert,’ so they ask me for advice. How many hours a day of television is healthy? How many hours of video games should they allow after school? Is my kid playing too much Minecraft? In person, their concern seems to outweigh their faith in digital media.
But what parents say to one another during playdates and what they do in the privacy of their own homes isn’t always the same. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center just released a national survey of more than 1500 parents of children ages 2-10. The study is entitled Learning at Home: Families’ Educational Media Use in America.
It turns out that 57 percent of parents believe that their children have learned “a lot” from “educational media.” However, they’re also clear that “learning from mobile devices falls short compared to other platforms.”
The study “is intended to provide the first-ever comprehensive analysis of parental reports on the use of educational media in the home and the manner in which parents jointly engage with their children in media viewing and interactive play,” wrote Dr. Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.
One of the interesting things that the study reveals is “an alarming drop in educational media use after the very earliest years. As screen media use goes up, the proportion devoted to educational content goes down.” Michael Levine explains, “While young children are spending much of their media time with educational content during their preschool years, their learning opportunities drop significantly as they get older and spend more time on mobile platforms.”
“This is the first study to quantify the portion of screen time that is educational,” said Vicky Rideout, a national expert in children’s media use and president of VJR Consulting. “Right now, mobile media are not living up to their potential as a source of learning for kids, at least according to parents’ reports.”
Levine concurs, “As we work to raise education standards and improve students’ success, we must provide higher quality media options—especially on mobile—that will help engage and educate today’s older children.”
In our sound-bite saturated media culture, it is typically the media–journalists and so-called experts and specialists–that we hear from most often. They tell us what’s good for our kids, what they should be learning. Either that, or we just see children’s media that is labeled “educational” by the folks that produce it. The trouble is, many parents feel that when this media doesn’t work as advertised there must be something wrong with their kids.
This report is unique and laudable in that “it is parents who assess whether the media their children use at home is educational or not.” Approaching from this perspective provides surprising results that are consistent with other national reports in some ways, and inconsistent in others.
For example the study raises “key concerns about whether our nation is focused clearly on production of media for low-income families, especially those from Hispanic-Latino heritage, and how best to get essential family engagement in the rapid transition from print books to digital reading technologies. It also casts reasonable doubt on some journalistic and academic accounts that children are isolated from their families while using media.”
Here are 8 key findings from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center study: Learning at Home: Families’ Educational Media Use in America..
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Educational Media Is Popular.
“80 percent of kids use educational media weekly (including 34 percent who do so daily). Parents say that their children’s learning experience goes beyond the screen, with many weekly users talking about (87 percent), asking questions about (77 percent), engaging in imaginative play (78 percent), and wanting to do projects (61 percent) based on something they have learned from educational media.”
Older Kids Are More Likely To Be Couch Potatoes.
“Two- to four-year olds spend more time per day on educational media than any other age group: 1 hour 16 minutes for ages 2-4, 50 minutes for ages 5-7 and 42 minutes for ages 8-10.”
My Boob Tube Is Bigger Than Your Tablet.
“Television continues to dominate, according to parents, with children spending an average of 42 minutes a day with educational TV compared to 5 minutes with educational content on mobile devices and computers and 3 minutes with educational video games.”
Sesame Street Is Still Better Than An App.
“Even among those who use educational content on each platform weekly, learning from mobile lags behind TV: 39 percent say their child has learned “a lot” about any subject from mobile compared to 52 percent for TV.”
Kids Still Read…Paper & Print Dominates.
“Children are reading an average of 40 minutes per day, including 29 minutes with print, 8 minutes on computers, and 5 minutes using e-platforms. The majority (62 percent) has access to e-readers or tablets, but less than a third (31 percent) use them, often because their parents prefer printed books to the digital form.”
Sometimes, It’s A Racial Thing.
“There are significant differences among racial groups: across almost every subject area and platform, Black parents were most likely to say their children had learned from educational media, with Hispanic parents least likely to think so. For example, 91 percent of Black parents said their children had learned a lot or some about math from computers compared to 79 percent of Whites and 63 percent of Hispanic-Latinos (among those whose children are weekly users of educational content on computers).”
Black, Hispanic-Latino, And White Parents View Educational Media Options Differently.
“Both Black (60 percent) and Hispanic-Latino (52 percent) parents are more likely than White (37 percent) ones to consider interactive media a very or somewhat important source for the lessons their children most need to learn, and they are more likely to say they want more information about how to find quality educational media for their children, especially Hispanic-Latino parents (74 percent, compared to 57 percent for Blacks and 46 percent for Whites).”
Not Enough Science In Digital Media.
“There are differences in what parents say their children are learning from educational media. More parents report that their children have learned a lot about reading (37 percent) and math (28 percent) from educational media than science (19 percent) or the arts (15 percent). ‘Parents are telling us we need to do a better job in creating science-based educational media,’ said Levine.”
Jordan Shapiro is author of FREEPLAY: A Video Game Guide to Maximum Euphoric Bliss. For information on his upcoming books and events click here.