Screen time has been a pretty big buzz word the past few years among parents, teachers, SLPs, and the general public. Roughly speaking, screen time is the time that a person spends using screen-based devices. It's easy to think that this is confined to newer forms of technology, like smartphones and tablets, but it also involves time spent using other screen-based devices such as televisions, computers, laptops, movie screens, smart watches, GPS, etc. You get the picture.
Screen time only represents the amount of time we spend using screen-based devices. It doesn't tell us why users are spending time with media, how they are using the media to learn new things or communicate with family and friends, whether they are passively watching screens or using them in interactive ways, or who they are using media with.
Many times, we want to know if spending time with screens is a good thing or a bad thing. There are both positive and negative outcomes associated with media use. But unfortunately, it isn't as simple as a yeah or nay answer. Wouldn't it be great if it were that clear cut - like smoking is bad for your health, PERIOD. We could tackle it head on, like the Screenslaver in "The Incredibles 2."
But no such luck. Some of the earliest media effects research can be traced back to the 1930s. In 1985, R.J. Meadow wrote that "after four decades of exploration, we are left with one answer to the question of media effects - 'it depends' "(p. 158). It depends because humans are a diverse collective of unique individuals and we all process media in different ways (Potter & Bolls, 2012).
It's easy to draw conclusions from our own observations and what we see about media research shared in the news and online. A newly published article about screen time by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics provides some important food for thought.
The relationship between screen time and performance on a developmental screening test is a correlation or associated relationship. This means that these two behaviors occur at the same time. As the authors point out in the article, what isn't known is which behavior occurs first and thereby causes the second behavior. Correlation is an important first step in cause and effect research.
Their point is definitely something that we need to consider when making decisions about using screens in home, educational, clinical and therapeutic environments.
Next time you turn on a screen, think about your goals:
Why are you turning on the device?
What purpose does it serve?
What are you hoping to accomplish?
How long are you going to use it?
Thinking about why we are using screens is a good first step in better understanding our own screen time use. And keep in mind that not all screen time use is negative. You did after all, just read this blog post (which I appreciate) and learned something new!
Dysinger, W.S., & Ruckmick, C.A. (1933). The Emotional Responses of Children to the Motion Picture Situation. New York: MacMillan.
Madigan, S., Browne, D., Racine, N., Mori, C., & Tough, S. (2018). Association between screen time and children’s performance on a developmental screening test. JAMA Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5056
Madigan, S., Browne, D., Racine, N., Mori, C., & Tough, S. (2018). Association
Meadow, R. G. (1985). Political communication research in the 1980s. Journal of Communication, 35(1), 157-173.
Potter, R. F., & Bolls, P. D., (2012). Psychophysiological Measurement and Meaning: Cognitive and Emotional Processing of Media. New York, NY: Routledge.