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Melissa Depper's picture

Screen Time Book Club: Chapter 1!

Welcome to the Screen Time Book Club!

We apologize for the late start today--Murphy's Law combined with two busy children's librarian schedules delayed our first post. Next week's post will arrive earlier in the day!

Each week we will post a few questions for one or two chapters of Lisa Guernsey’s book Screen Time. You will have all week to read or re-read the chapter and add your two cents to the discussion in the comments below. 

We know this topic is a robust one and that we have among us a wide variety of experiences and beliefs about children & digital media. We want everyone to feel that this is a comfortable place to raise questions and share their thoughts, so please be respectful in your responses.

This week we will be spending time with the first chapter, “What Exactly Is This Video Doing to My Baby’s Brain?” Here Lisa Guernsey takes a broad look at research on the impact of videos and screen time on young, developing minds.

Here are a few questions to get us started. Please respond to any or all!

1. Lisa Guernsey begins by referring to the 1999 recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics; and recently, the AAP released an updated statement. Does this new statement address some of the concerns or issues raised in this chapter? Does it change how you read this chapter?

2. How much did you know about children’s development and media research before reading Lisa’s book? Did reading this chapter about Lisa’s “research into the research” change how you felt about these issues? Do you feel like you know more, or do you feel like you have more questions? 

3. Have the AAP statements, or any other children’s media research, impacted your library’s programs, services, or policies? Please share what decisions have been made or what discussions have taken place at your libraries.

Thank you! Share your responses in the comments. If you have any additional questions, please post them, too.

Melissa and Andrea

Andrea Vernola's picture

I guess I'm going to be the first to respond!

1. I was really glad to see the AAP recommendation updated recently. I only became familiar with the 1999 recommendation 3 years ago when I started my first YS library position and became a new parent. I remember thinking then that the 1999 recommendations of "Zero Screen Time Ever. Zilch. Nada." were a best case scenario and likely to alienate some parents. And they've really needed to be updated for some time. The 1999 recommendation served a purpose in letting parents know that passive screen watching just isn't necessary or beneficial in a babies life. There are too many other things babies need to be doing and too much time with a screen has the potential to get in the way of those other things. But the new recommendation allows for a little more nuance and that's a good thing in my opinion. The updated version seems to recognize that watching television vs. reading a book app are two very different screen time choices. The AAP seems to be encouraging parents to think about the 3 C's more in this updated recommendation. I think Lisa's last line of the chapter sums up the issue of television or passive screen watching perfectly. "Perhaps in an ideal world, where mothers nad fathers have unlimited tim eto spend with their perpetually happy infants, it would never cross a peren'ts mind to use a baby video to catch a break. BUT in the real world, videos do become babysitters. The answer is moderation. If you are going to pop in a video, make sure that your child gets plenty of quality time with you, too." 

2. I didn't know a lot about the actual research studies prior to reading this book for the first time. It's a great start to learning about these issues. Mostly though, I feel glad that the research continues and that Lisa and others continue to write and think about what various studies mean. Our children deserve the best we can offer them and the times continue to change. We have to continue to read and study and think about these issues. I am much more comfortable offering parents research they can read for themselves and encouraging them to make the best decisions for each of their individual children. So I guess I'd say, I have more questions and I will continue to have more questions. One of my parenting mottos is "Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better...do better" from Maya Angelou. We keep asking questions as parents and librarians because we want the best and the rate of change in our society is lightning fast. So we ask questions, we think, and we make the best decisions we can until we know better.

3. The AAP recommendations have certainly impacted our children's programming, services, and policies, but they are not the only source of information we use to make decisions on where to offer or use screen media for children. We are strategic about what we offer and how we use screen media in a program. We don't use screens in baby 0-2 programs. We use iPads as just one tool in our programming tool kit for older children. We offer the research to parents and stay up-to-date on it but we do not make decisions for parents, nor condemn their choices. We focus on the positive. Rather than establish an anti-screen policy or attitude, we emphasize the joys of reading and the ways that reading and playing with your child prepare them for life. We want parents to feel empowered, not judged. We have many staff discussions evaluating media when it comes to adding it to our collection or promoting something. Ultimately, we try to use the 3 C's here too: Context, Content, and Child. Whatever we use, whatever service we provide, we do it intentionally and purposefully with thought to those 3 areas.



Melissa Depper's picture

Andrea, we've made similar decisions to you; when we ran our Tech Together program last summer, it was advertised as for children 2-5 and their caregivers. And we have been testing out using digital tools in storytimes, but not our baby storytime (0-24 months). So we're consciously echoing the AAP "under two years" recommendation there. I would love to do more programs where we could share information about screens, apps, and the 5 Every Child Ready to Read early literacy practices with the parents, in a program where they could test out the media themselves and have time to ask their particular questions (rather than just listen to us app-chat or lecture).

Melissa Depper
Librarian, Child and Family Library Services
Arapahoe Library District (CO)

Rachel Payne's picture

Thanks for starting this book club and getting me to revisit Lisa's book!  I have a lot of thoughts and I may not respond to all of Melissa's thoughtful questions.  My biggest take-away is what the AAP mentioned in their recent statement, we need more research.  Maybe age two is a somewhat arbitrary line in the sand, but, since so much is happening in these vital years, I think the caution is warranted.  Until we have more evidence about the impact screens on the very young, I am going to continue to tread carefully in regards to screen use with those under two in my practice.  

This doesn't mean I think we should dismiss apps or make parents feel guilty about their choices.  The AAP also has guidelines about a lot of things.  Breast milk is another area of concern for them and many parents feel guilty about their inability to offer or maintain this for their babies (I was in that camp). But is this guilt helpful?  Parents are doing the best they can.  If parents are connected and responsive, a little TV and occasional app use is not going hurt anyone.  And many formula fed babies are quite healthy.

Lisa did discuss if screens took away from free play for children, but she didn't address how screens take parents away from children, particularly smartphones.  This seems to be a more recent thing with the rise of smartphones.  I see parents watching their kids on the playground, sitting with their child in storytime, or sitting with their children at the dinner table glued to their phones.  They're present, but not really.  I sometimes get sucked into Facebook or texting or answering work email when I am with my son.  He often tells me, "put down the phone mommy."  My favorite kids' t-shirt of late has a picture of an iPhone with the words "PUT IT DOWN."  What is the effect of excessive screen use by parents on children? That would be an interesting study!  Again, there is no guilt or blame here for parents, but how can we as librarians help parents engage in the vital early literacy practices?  Parents need media diets, too.

I have others thoughts, but I should probably power down my screen so I can be responsive to my son in the morning!  


Alex Graves's picture

I feel like a bad librarian that I can't find a copy of the 1999 policy, but I guess it makes sense that the AAP wouldn't keep superseded documents kicking around their website, much in the way that we weed our collections of outdated materials. I can't say how much has changed for sure, but I remember thinking there were few differences when the 2011 policy on screen time for 0-2 year olds came out. It still focused on passive media, and it still said that there should be no screen exposure for this age group. It was a disappointment to people who thought interactive media should be considered differently, but there it was.  The 2013 policy statement, "Children, Adolescents, and the Media," is broader in scope, but restates the recommendation that children under two should not have screen exposure. I guess since that recommendation was the focus of the chapter, it didn't change my reading of it too much.

I honestly found the chapter validating. My own kids watched those dumb baby videos and lived to tell the tale. While the flaw in my case study is not having access to an alternate universe where I could see how they turned out without the videos, I can tell you that they are bright, inquisitive, playful, and full of awesome at 9 and 11.  I did spend a lot of time playing with them, and we read together frequently, because, as Vandewater's study showed, exposure to screens does not preclude adequate time spent in other developmental areas.  This is not to dismiss the displacement of time spent with parents in activities other than television or time spent in creative play.  But I like what Guernsey says at the end of the chapter: "The answer is moderation. If you are going to pop in a baby video, make sure that your child gets plenty of quality time with you, too."

When the 2013 AAP policy statement came out, people were like, yessss, finally, progress.  I think I must be missing something.  I mean, they acknowledged that some media can have positive impacts in the introduction, so there's that.  And they acknowledge that a cell phone is different from a television set, so good for them. But their recommendation to parents is to "limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to

Here's my question:  Why do we, as librarians, put so much emphasis on these policy statements that are intended to assist medical professionals discuss the issue of electronic media with parents?  I mean, pediatricians also recommend things like breastfeeding and vaccinations, but I would never make those things my business with parents.  Not to answer my own question, but I guess it's because media are our thing?  But I'm sometimes amazed at how much emphasis I see on statements that have little research behind them, and that are meant for doctors.

Sorry so long-winded. I'm very interested to hear others' responses.

Rachel Payne's picture

Your question got me thinking, Amy.  I think the available research, the AAP guidelines, and my own understanding about early childhood informs what I do in my programs around screens with the very young.  In terms of how I advise parents, I usually share the research, the guidelines, and some of my own experience without making recommendations beyond moderation, to engage with a child when they are on a screen when you can, some recommendations of content to share, as well as some engaging non-screen activities to try, too.  If parents asked about vaccines or breast feeding, I would help them find information about that as well.  As information professionals, we can help connect parents to resources to help them make informed decisions about what is right for them and we do need to share the AAP guidelines with them to give them the complete picture.  I think quoting the AAP as the end all and be all is a mistake.  Lisa's book does a great job of putting the guidelines in context.  

Alex Graves's picture

Thanks, Rachel. You're absolutely right that the guidelines are part of the picture, and that we need to provide as complete a picture as we can when parents and others come to us for information, whatever the question. The key is balance, and not emphasizing one thing over another. And to make sure parents feel free to make up their own minds with the tools we've given them.

Andrea Vernola's picture

Love these thoughts! Honestly, one of my favorite parts of the job is helping parents find the information they need to make the best decision for their family. I love that I'm not here to tell parents the "right" way to parent their child. I'm here to help them find information. Love that somewhat subtle difference. 

Ted McCoy (non-member)'s picture

I think you make a great point about the emphasis placed on policy statements in our profession. The AAP recommendations are vital but I agree with Rachel (and you): to present them as the be all and end all would be a mistake.

Given how committed all of us in this field are committed to serving children and their caregivers, and how much change technology has presented us with in a relatively short period of time, I think there might be a temptation to rely on answers that seem absolute. There's a certain amount of comfort in absolutes, but it robs us of the context component of "Three C's" framework. 

I feel like Guernsey really underscores the need for context when looking at child development research. Talking about Christakis' (a pediatrician) screen time/ADHD study and the relative amount of attention it received versus studies by psychologists and child development specialists really drove home our need to put research into context, and not to selectively focus on research (or recommendations) that suit us. Pediatricians are an important voice with respect to children and their well-being, but by no means the only voice we need to listen to.

Melissa Depper's picture

Ted, your thought on putting research into context is what I was musing about when I wrote Question 2. Like many of us, I see headlines in the news and don't always have the time or energy to follow up and read the whole article or study or do my own research. This first chapter was reassuring on two fronts for me: 1) that the results of these studies (as usual) are more nuanced (and less alarming) than the headlines and soundbites make them seem, and 2) as a more general reminder that it is always helpful to try to look at a bigger picture when wrestling with new information. I finished this chapter thinking that there were definitely areas of concern around children and media but that I was able to start seeing some outlines around the issues and had some traction to help me move forward.

Melissa Depper
Librarian, Child and Family Library Services
Arapahoe Library District (CO)

Rebecca Z. Dunn's picture

First, thank you so much for starting this book club. Unlike most of the librarians commenting here, I had not read Lisa Guernsey's book and it has been an eye opening read so far.

Ted, I thought it was interesting what you said about absolutes. It is positively easier to give a black or white answer. Why? Because most of the time that is what the patron is looking for. It gets tricky when there is grey area, especially when it involves their children. I became familiar with the AAP recommendation (of no screen time before the age of 2) when I became a parent over three and a half years ago. Other than that statement I wasn't familiar with early childhood media research. I did my best to keep my daughter away from screens, but when she became a very mobile, busy 1-year-old I learned about the power of Elmo. I could manage to do the dishes or sit down for a minute to drink a cup of coffee if she watched an episode of the mesmerizing, lovable monster. I found myself nodding while reading Lisa's similar experience and guilt. We, too, would use Skype to talk with grandparents that lived far away. Even though my husband and I made sure it was never more than 20-30 minutes of screen time a day, I still felt guilty. But the thing is, Elmo never replaced mom or dad. It never replaced books or playtime. A good majority of my fear came from sensationalized headlines like "How Screens Are Ruining Your Family" or "Screen Time and Education Dropoff" or something to the like. These are big claims, and they require an equal amount of evidence to support.

That said, even though the jury is still out... I tread lightly when giving advice. The only thing I really can do at this point is to direct parents to information that allows them to come to their own conclusions. I've been inspired by library programming at various libraries that introduces appropriate tablet and app use to kids and caregivers. I also wonder if hosting some type of online bookclub like the one we are having here for parents and caregivers in our own library communities might help educate and promote awareness.

Melissa Depper's picture

Amy, this is a thoughtful question, and I agree with your own assessment--that we put more weight and attention on the media guidelines than others because yes, concerns about media are in our wheelhouse in a way that concerns about other health issues aren't.

Melissa Depper
Librarian, Child and Family Library Services
Arapahoe Library District (CO)

Karen Burke's picture

The AAP Guidelines are just that---guidelines. I think we all realize each family and each child has different needs. I certainly don't want to make anyone feel guilty because their child uses a tablet or watches TV. Heck, my own kids watched TV and we've had computers in the house since they were born. So, far they seemed to have turned out ok. I like that Guernsey voices some concerns about overuse of media, especially with the under 2's, but also points out that it isnt' all doom and gloom. One thing that I wonder about is how media is taking the parent away from the child. I see children trying to get Mom or Dad's attention while the parent are looking at a tablet or on the phone. I read somewhere we need to remind parents that they are the best app for their child.

Kathy Kleckner's picture

Regarding the book, the first chapter raises the important questions about screen time's effect on a child's time with parents and when or how does screen time encourage adult/child interaction. Also, how does screen time effect active or creative play?

Guernsey concludes: "If you are going to pop in a baby video, make sure that your child gets plenty of quality time with you, too."  This "quality time" is what we know is great for kids and families (so does Guernsey) and what I think librarians should be focused on supporting because it is shrinking but for this book it is barely mentioned.  Three main themes of the book starts here and continues throughout the book: 1) better experience and materials than screen time for kids are acknowledged but given no attention.  2) childhood is to not be regarded with eye toward optimal development, lowering our standards or expectations for children is necessary to finding comfort with screen time uses  and 3) science hasn't always gotten the right answers and therefore we shouldn't pay it much attention. 

Chapter One offers us nothing toward excellence in children's librarianship with screens.

Regarding comments:  I agree that "we ask questions, we think and we make the best decisions we can until we know better."  I think we also look broadly at the information available and consider all sources and give all due respect to our ignorance.  There is a lot we don't know.  Assuming that the situation with media saturation is all good until incontrovertible evidence proves otherwise is less than responsible, I think.  I mean look at what we have experienced with  fast food... It was so exciting and fun and engaging to children and families.  So convenient.  It has taken decades to realize its full effects and it is grim.

I think there is confusion about providing information to parents versus promoting screen time for children and families.  I think we should be informative but remain aware that screen time has not proven itself worth our recommendation and promotion (except for Skype/Facetime which is a singular kind of screen time use) and Guernsey shows this, if we will read her book. 

In determining screen time uses for children, librarians do not know and can not know the child or the context for the child as Guernsey discusses them.  If knowing the child or the context for the child is important before providing screen time to kids, and I definitely think it is, then librarians aren't in a position to promote screen time for kids, especially in captive audiences such as story times. 

AAP guidelines should be based on the research not on parent reactions.  I am hearing references to guilt lately.  Guilt is self-generated, no one can "make you feel guilty". 

There is no basis to believe that "exposure to screens does not preclude adequate time spent in other developmental areas."  The Vandewater study does not explain how all time is spent, I think the screen watchers are getting less sleep but the study didn't ask about sleep.  In any case, the mobile screens are different - they are are everywhere, any time so new studies are needed to know.

The AAP guidelines are for parents to know and use.  The AAP is the foremost authority on children's health. They are important in the "village" that raises our children with us.  We would not have to think about them if we were not supplying and promoting screen time to children.  Screen time is a health issue that can impact all domains of child development, just in terms of time spent looking at screens or having parents distracted by them.