Parenting Resource

Screen Sense—Full White Paper

Download Files May 2, 2014

Download the full white paper for an authoritative review of what is known about the effect of screen media on young children’s learning and development.

A robust body of research shows that the most important factor in a child’s healthy development is a positive parent–child relationship, characterized by warm, loving interactions in which parents and other caregivers sensitively respond to their child’s cues and provide age-appropriate activities that nurture curiosity, exploration, and learning.

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The research is also clear about what constitutes quality early learning experiences: ones that build skills, character, and the ability to be successful in school, relationships, and life. These experiences engage children’s minds and bodies; encourage exploration, experimentation, problem solving, and creative thinking; and build “academic” skills such as cognitive, language, executive functioning, and social–emotional skills. Language-promoting experiences including storytelling, reading, and pretend play are three such activities that take place with parents, other caregivers, and peers that have been extensively studied and have demonstrated these positive impacts.

These rich, multidimensional experiences typically take place in the real, three-dimensional (3-D) world through hands-on exploration and interactions with peers and adults. Picture a 5-month old learning about the back-and-forth of communication and the joy of interaction as his mom shakes a rattle and then hands it to him when he reaches his hands out to show that he wants to take a turn. Or the 20-month-old who is learning about problem solving and persistence as her dad guides her to test where the pieces fit into the shape sorter. Or, imagine two 3-year-olds building a home out of blocks for their stuffed animals, using their language, imagination, and growing social skills to develop a story together.

Two-dimensional (2-D) screen experiences—whether via TV, tablets, smartphones, or computers—do not inherently provide these rich opportunities for whole mind-body learning or the type of social interaction and shared exploration that real-world experiences offer so seamlessly. The reality is that young children now grow up in a world of technology. Not only are screens enticing, but children see their parents, caregivers, and teachers using them, so naturally they are drawn to them. Parents should be provided with the guidance and tools they need to become “media literate” so that if they choose to make screen media a part of their children’s lives, they can do so in a way that enhances learning and development as much as possible.