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Andrea Vernola's picture

Screen Time Book Club: Chapter 2-3

Great discussion last week! Thanks to everyone who viewed and commented. This is really fun and also professionally beneficial! 

I hadn't read the book before last fall when Melissa had the idea to host this book club. My initial thoughts were that the research is fascinating and that having this type of information makes me a better librarian and parent. I'm glad to be discussing it with you all now! Below, I posted a few thoughts and questions for discussion but please respond to whatever you feel like from the book. Don't feel like you have to answer my questions. These are just some thoughts to get us started. 

1. In Chapter 2, Lisa sums up the research by saying that the “zombie effect” just doesn’t exist for children older than 2 (p. 36), meaning that kids can be cognitively engaged while watching video whether or not they look like it. The “zombie effect” in children 2 and older is more likely “attention inertia”. But for babies, much more research needs to be done before we could conclusively say that babies are cognitively engaged while watching television. The Teletubbies study is particularly troubling, in my opinion, but I would agree with Lisa’s assessment that more research needs to be done. What did you think about this section? Does it have any bearing on our practice as librarians in selection or programming or another area?

2. In Chapter 3, Lisa discusses the question “Could my toddler learn from baby videos?” And her answer in my opinion, is “um maybe but there are lots of richer experiences they could be having”. All the research she dicusses is fascinating but the study I found most interesting was the one that showed toddlers learning faster via the in-person demonstration, rather than a video. What did you all think of this chapter?

3. These are the chapters with research on "what these videos are doing" --how does this relate or not relate to whether we worry or not about other media "is doing" that goes home with families? We all struggle with the 3rd grader who wants to read inappropriate YA, but do we worry what poorly written Dora books are doing to our children? Or what body image issues children are gleaning from the Barbie easy readers? Is it even our job to wonder what media “is doing” to children when it leaves the library? What about out of date nonfiction? How are these conversations similar or not similar to other conversations in our professional history about comic books, series fiction, or even fiction in general? 

Lisa Mulvenna's picture

My answer is more in tune with questions 1 and 2.  Based on my experience in working with my 9 nieces and nephews, the video itself isn't the learning mechanism-it's how you use it with them.  For example, if you are watching Barney, are you just sitting and watching OR are you up and dancing with your toddler to all of the songs?  If you are watching Sesame Street, are you writing the letter shapes on the floor or counting along with the Count?  I think of it as active watching.  There are very few times that we have the tv on just to watch other than when we are trying to go down for naptime.

I know that not everybody will agree with me, but these are my 2 cents.

Lisa

Melissa Depper's picture

What I liked was the reminder that the learning that *does* happen is very specific and very dependent on a child's cognitive development. It helps us move away from that broad term "educational" and forces us to look more closely at what is happening, and then if what's happening is beneficial. The catchphrase that comes to mind is that "learning happens in relationships" so Lisa I think you are right on track with your nieces and nephews.

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

Heather McNeil's picture

I am so impressed by everyone's logic and careful consideration.  Librarians are awesome, don't you think?

I've thoroughly enjoyed Guernsey's book, as well as Catherine Steiner-Adair's The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.  The topic I want to comment on is your second question, Andrea, which is about the fact that children learn more from interaction with their care giver rather than from a screen.  Bingo!  This is exactly why I believe it is essential for us to be role modeling at storytimes all the many creative and interactive ways they can be enhancing their child's brain development, bonding, and early literacy skills.  I believe that parents need to come to 30 minutes of a day when they have no need for screens to entertain their child, and can see how easy and fun that is.  The parents we have to be most concerned about are not those who take an occasional break to do laundry so they give a child a screen, but those who automatically provide a screen as soon as the child fusses (I see it frequently at the library), or leave TV on all day long at home, or cannot disconnect themselves from their cell phone. That's why--and I know there are many who don't agree with me, but here goes--I don't recommend screens at any storytime for any age.  A parenting class when you demo apps and interactive use of screens for age 2 up?  You bet!  But not at storytime, when they can see their child moving, laughing, listening, wondering, learning, being engaged, all without a screen. 

As Guensey says, "Even when the material on the screen is designed to look, feel and sound exactly the same as if a person is standing there in the room, live observances stick with children at a higher rate."  That's why we all hear from parents, "My daughter/son pretends to be you at home, and does storytime with his stuffed animals, just like you."  That always makes me delighted to know that the rhymes, songs, stories and actions went home in the child's heart and brain.  I would not feel the same excitement if I heard that a child played storytime, and had to have a tablet to tap. 

Melissa Depper's picture

Heather, thanks for this thoughtful comment! I very much appreciate where you arrived in terms of deciding what content is appropriate for your storytimes, and love how you framed it as modeling non-screen engagement for parents, since I think it's a valuable counterpoint to one of the reasons to add digital experiences to storytime (as a way to model and talk about appropriate digital engagement to parents).

I also appreciate that you aren't saying "absolutely no," to digital experiences, but "no in storytimes and yes in a dedicated program." When we consider deeply what our goals and objectives are, it *should* have an affect on the tools and services we choose to achieve them, and that of course will vary depending on the library and the resources and the staff involved.

This is similar to what my library has tried out so far--we haven't moved forward with incorporating digital elements into all storytimes, but we did run a pilot to test out different options with the equipment and facilities we own, and we did create a separate parent-child app-based program centered around good early literacy and digital practices. We are still working out how things will look but it feels good to be thinking and talking about it and testing options out.

Thank you!

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

Melissa Depper's picture

Re Q3: I know about libraries that choose not to purchase "brand-based" books such as TV or movie character tie-ins, but usually those objections are framed in terms of quality, either quality of content (written or illustrated) or quality of product (flimsy paperbacks), and not in terms of developmental appropriateness. Do you know of anyone who has not purchased videos aimed at babies because of media recommendations?

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

Andrea Vernola's picture

I don't know of libraries who have not purchased videos aimed at babies but I know of librarians who talk about wishing they could do that. And I really get that feeling. I too would be curious to know of any libraries that don't purchase baby videos.

My personal opinion is that we should offer what people are asking for when it meets our library's collection development policies. I don't think we can be responsible for how people use media with their families. But we can create strong collections, full of quality, with appropriate content for a variety of stages of development, and we can promote this content and literacy every time we get the chance. 

Andrea Vernola                                                                                                                             Children's Programming Librarian                                                                                                   Kalamazoo Public Library (MI)

Amy Graves's picture

I think it's easier to see preschoolers’ engagement with television in interactive shows, where you can watch kids actually respond to the characters.  Of course, not every kid is going to react like that.  (When I was a kid, I never thought Mr. Rogers was talking to me…I always assumed he was talking to some other kid in some other house.  Self-esteem issues much?)  I used to have a hard time getting my kids’ attention when the television was on, as discussed in chapter two.  Now my “problem” is trying to get their attention when they’re reading.  Clearly that is something they're engaged in.  No one would label that the “zombie effect.”  It’s a thing that happens to me when my mind is sorting out a difficult problem; I basically stop registering sensory input outside of the thing I’m focusing on.  Not that children’s TV shows are difficult problems that require focus, but I do understand how they can generate the attention inertia effect.

If your goal is learning, the research clearly shows that in-person experiences are better than videos for young kids.  “Active watching,” as Lisa discusses above, is much more advantageous from a learning perspective, and something I enjoyed doing with my children.  But it’s not going to happen every viewing in every household.  I guess it’s a question of whether one thinks that every moment of every day needs to be designed as a learning experience for a child.  If we only get 30 minutes a week with them in storytime, of course we want to maximize the educational components of that.   But I’m not overly concerned with whether or not we have baby videos on our shelves (my library does).  It’s obvious if you watch a Baby Einstein video that it’s not going to turn your child into some kind of genius.  A parade of puppets and toys set to music?  Yeah, no.  But if the primary concern in watching these videos is that it might be taking away from time spent doing more beneficial things, and we have no way of knowing how patrons allot their time as parents, I don’t see withholding them from our collection.  Maybe it’s my own bias in having used them myself, I don’t know.

Kathy Kleckner's picture

I am concerned about children's engagement with screens.  We hear a lot about how "engaging" screens are.  We really know very little about that this means.  I don't disagree that kids are not becoming zombies but that isn't something that I get excited about.   

I see screen time as profoundly passive.  Even with the touch screen, there is a passive, follow-the-prompts experience for children.  This is very different from the book or free play where the imagination is exercised.  This practice with imagination is crucial to literacy, it is how a child engages with a story, "gets lost in a book".  Screens simply show too much or too fast and block imagination.

Melissa Depper's picture

Kathy, I hear your concerns and I think many of us would agree that prompting the imagination and allowing children to be proactive are goals for anything children "engage" with, from toys to friends to conversations to instruction. And I too have seen children involved in pretty passive screen experiences.

I am reluctant, though, based on my own reading, and my experiences as a librarian, and my time as a mom, to make categoric statements about all books, all play, and all screens, or to place these experiences in absolute opposition to the others.

I do not see all screen time as profoundly passive. I do understand that you do, but we are just going to have to agree to disagree on this. Not all touch screen experiences are limited, follow-the-prompts. Not all screens show too much or too fast. Just because a child is sitting still and using a touch screen does not mean that they are not actively making decisions, testing out cause-and-effect, and responding to the screen environment, in ways that relate to the ways they make decisions, test cause-and-effect, and respond to a physical environment. I think the Toca Boca apps are great in this regard. I think some of the studies that Lisa mentions in Chapters 2 and 3 as well as our next discussion chapter, 6, point to what researchers are learning on these issues, and one of the things we know is that the quality of the app or the software matters a great deal.

Conversely, I do not see all book experiences as automatically better than all screen experiences--and again, I realize that this is a point where we might have to agree to disagree. Real life is somewhere in the middle, and I see this "middle" every day in my own daughters. My younger daughter was reading by 4 years old, and is a terrific reader now at 13, reading everything from little kid chapter books to adult non-fiction. She also, at age 8, cried at the end of Super Mario Galaxy when the stars who had been Mario's companions throughout the whole game, left him, because having finished his objectives, he no longer needed their guidance. She had been truly lost in that story. I can't see that and think that all screen time is detrimental to children's developing imagination. Especially when I also see her pick up a book and not finish it because it doesn't speak to her--doesn't catch her imagination.

For me this middle area is navigated differently for every child and every family and depends greatly on the quality of the book, the quality of the digital media, and the presence or lack of presence of a participating adult. As we discuss these issues, I do not want to feel backed into a corner where I feel I must defend a child sitting by themselves with a trite, poorly illustrated movie knockoff board book as always being a more robust cognitive experience than a child sitting with an adult playing Rosemary Wells' "Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes" app together, singing and talking and enjoying each other...and I feel these examples, as extreme as they are, are a logical result of too much either-or thinking. This is why I so appreciate Lisa's book and the chance to learn more about digital media research and to have some more time to reflect on what we know, so that we can talk openly to families who are navigating this middle space too.

Thank you, Kathy, for reading along with us and contributing your thoughts. I know you have thought long and hard about these issues, as we all have, and appreciate your helping to continue these conversations that we all learn so much from.

Melissa

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

Kathy Kleckner's picture

Melissa,

Understandably, any two of us can have different perceptions of any particular screen time and its value, especially when apps and tablet use are still new.  As Lisa's book shows, any value screen time has is tied to a set of particulars.  Until we have research, we only have our opinions.  I very much believe our profession depends on having and appreciating the information we need before making choices and decisions.   I think a comparative analysis is essential in understanding screen time also.  Toca Boca apps offer poorer experiences in play than real world experiences.  I don't know if we actually need a research study to appreciate that but I think it is huge consideration when we think about what to recommend to families and parent education content.  Skype is one, singular example of technology use that has research behind it now that I think makes it worth recommending and even facilitating for very young children.  It's possible that additional research will be produced that allows us to recommend other particular kinds of screen time that meets professional standards.   I hope this book club and future work builds our commitment to research-guided practice so that any recommendation is based on a body of evidence and our credibility is protected - all in the "pursuit of excellence" for children.

And thank you too, Melissa, for writing and all your contributions.