Children Should Spend More ‘Active’ Time With Screens, New Study Says

In the past, it has been common for parents and teachers alike to limit the amount of screen time a child has with a smartphone or tablet. However, new studies are emerging that challenge these long-held prescriptions.

A new report from the Wall Street Journal explains how some parents are now encouraging parents to let kids spend even more time fiddling with devices. This is not a blanket recommendation, however, and it’s based more on how kids spend their time rather than simply how long they spend it.

According to the report, “One way to sum up the new way of thinking is to differentiate between ‘passive’ screen time, such as viewing videos, and ‘active’ time, including creative pursuits but also (parent-approved) video games, said AnnMarie Thomas, director of the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where her team creates hands-on learning experiences for children of all ages. Limiting passive time could be the new version of limiting screen time.”

Unlike TVs, smartphones and tablets are interactive and can offer a broad range of experiences not possible with TVs, such as video chats to coding. These offer “extraordinary learning” opportunities that have never before been possible, even with the computers of decades past. According to this new line of thinking, these experiences should be encouraged instead of limited.

“Extraordinary learning” is what happens when children’s Interests turn to passion, explains the report, and a combination of tech and the Internet provides a bottomless well of tools, knowledge, and peers to help them pursue these passions with intensity characteristic of youth.

These studies, however, do not deny the other risks of spending too much time attached to screens, active or passive. Use should certainly be limited to allow children time to rest their eyes, to encourage physical activity and social interaction, or even to induce the necessary boredom that eventually leads to creativity and imagination.

Contrary to this line of thinking, last week an activist investor and pension fund with shares in Apple asked the company to respond to a “growing public health crisis” concerning smartphone addiction among young people.