I hate gender stereotypes almost as much as I hate creating titles for my blog entries. So, I will start by apologizing for the cliché title, whichever way you took it.
However, this is an article about big-screen televisions. I am a fan. No, I’m not kidding. Dr. Screen-Free Mom prefers large-screen televisions to small-screen phones and tablets.
It’s all relative, right? I strongly prefer the rich sensory experience of being in the woods or by the lake or just about anywhere outdoors to any kind of a screen. However, if you are going to utilize screens with your children, I suggest a bigger screen for 4 good reasons.
1. Family versus Single Users
One piece of screen research that is universally found and rarely controversial is that it is best for parents to co-utilize screens with their children. Often referred to as parental mediation, this allows the parents and children to discuss what they see on screen together (highlighting what they agree or more importantly, disagree with). This may also be critical to kids being able to critique and fight what they see depicted when it is unrealistic or unhealthy.
Tablets and smartphones are not designed for multiple users. They are “hand-held” single user devices. Even if shared with someone else, it is uncomfortable and often results in conflicts over what should be watched next (the interactivity of the device drives a wedge between two people). In contrast, a larger screen is across the room, making it easier for kids to pull their attention away for a few minutes to engage in conversation.
2. Distance from the Overstimulation
Just as it might be easier to have a conversation with your child when the television is across the room, it also my easier on your child’s little body. When the television is across the room, it doesn’t take up your child’s entire visual field. It is easier on their eyes and their nervous systems.
3. Interactivity is Overrated
Television was often criticized because it is a “passive” activity. Screen-developers everywhere solved that problem mighty quick with “interactivity,” which largely means your child is swiping, tapping and clicking. I am not a fan of screen interactivity. That interactivity is closely related to compulsion loops. Your brain likes the little dopamine hits from moving up a level or correctly swiping a falling jewel.
These little chemical rewards make it all the more challenging for your child to turn their attention away from the screen. It can become very hard to turn the screen off. It is much easier when there is a little distance between the screen and your child and interactivity is not involved.
There have been reports of increasing headaches and back and neck problems in children due to the amount of time spent hunched over handheld devices. A screen far across the room allows children to sit in a more comfortable position to view the screen and makes it easier for adjustments and shifting throughout the screen-time.
None is Still Best, But If You Must… Go Big!
One of the most common concerns I receive from readers is negotiating the conflict with a partner or family member about screen use. That’s a complicated issue that has much more to do with relationship science (power, negotiations, respect, shared goals) than screen science.
However, if your significant other is clinging to their big screen, I concede (at least when we are comparing it to a small, single-user screen). I believe that a parent watching a feature length film with their child on the couch is far superior to the hyped-up interactivity of “educational” games and applications available as apps on small devices aimed at children.