What Are They Watching? Parent Tips for Choosing High-Quality Screen Experiences

Last updated: 09-02-2020

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What Are They Watching? Parent Tips for Choosing High-Quality Screen Experiences

Did you know that any program, app, or game can call itself educational? Many don’t actually help children learn or build the skills they claim. So, how can you find high-quality, educational screen experiences for your child? Here are six tips to guide your choices:

1) Choose media that’s guided by child development specialists and teachers. Organizations like PBS rely on experts in early development to help them develop children’s media programming. This approach ensures that their media focuses on the skills and concepts that young children are ready to learn.

2) Choose “just right” media experiences. Choosing age-appropriate media—programs, apps, and games that are designed for your child’s age and stage—is important. Screen media content should reflect children’s everyday lives and daily routines, which makes it easier for them to understand and make sense of what they’re watching. When children use media for older kids, they don’t learn as much and can get confused or frightened by what they see. Your child should be interested, challenged, and engaged when they’re watching or playing on-screen, but not bored, confused, or frustrated.

3) Choose screen experiences without lots of distractions. This means no “extra” sounds or pop-ups on the screen take your child’s attention away from the story or activity. Often children can be distracted by tapping or swiping to make things happen on screen.

4) Choose screen experiences that use rich language and give children a chance to participate and respond. Look for media where characters speak directly to your child, ask your child questions, and label or explain new words or concepts.

5) Share in the experience with your child. Ask them what they are interested in, so they can be part of choosing screen content. Talk with them as you watch or play, including during videochat, programs, apps, and e-books. Ask questions about what you are seeing. Connect the screen activity back to their daily world—if you watch a show about making a cake, do some baking together over the weekend.

6) Choose screen experiences that protect your child. Many games and apps—even those designed for toddlers—don’t protect your child’s privacy and may expose them to inappropriate ads or content. Before you choose a screen experience, check out unbiased reviews (like those from commonsensemedia.org). Read the privacy policy for the game or app. Make sure that your child is not being pushed to purchase items within or outside the app/game. Co-watch/co-play with your child to make sure that pop-up ads don’t contain confusing or inappropriate information.

Making decisions about children’s screen time is a parent’s job, and we know it’s not easy. Limiting the time the children spend on screens (see here for guidelines), and choosing high quality programming when children do watch is a helpful approach for many families.

For more guidance on children and screens, visit our Screen Sense series.


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