College of LAS « Illinois

Communication

Does ‘Facebook Generation’ Need Limits on Screen Time?

Communication professor says the challenge is sorting out the content that kids spend time with.

Wilson

Today’s teens are sometimes called the Facebook Generation, a reference to the ubiquitous presence of electronic media in their lives. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently recommended that parents put children on a “media diet,” limiting total entertainment screen time to less than two hours per day for children ages two and older, and discouraging all screen media exposure for children under two.

Barbara Wilson, the Kathryn Lee Baynes Dallenbach Professor in the Department of Communication, is an expert on the social and psychological effects of media on youth.

Wilson says the AAP recommendation encourages parents to think about how much time kids are spending with media and that tracking this time is important.

However, Wilson also says parents shouldn’t just focus on the amount of time that children spend with media because there are positive, pro-social aspects of the media, such as Sesame Street and websites that are full of educational material.

She says the challenge is sorting out the content that kids spend time with and what kinds of TV programs, movies, video games, and social media they are consuming. There are media products that can certainly be educational and good for kids, and there are products that can be potentially harmful.

Wilson says several researchers have pointed out that the AAP recommendation that children under age two be discouraged from using screen media altogether “may be a little conservative because we don’t have a lot of data on what screen media exposure does to infants ages zero to two. I think we’ll see more of that type of research in the next five years. It’s difficult research because babies are pre-verbal, so it’s very hard to measure their cognitive and emotional responses to stimuli like television.”

Winter 2014