So What If Screen Time Makes Kids 'Less Ready' for Kindergarten

kids screen time

If you've got a kid who spends his or her fair share of time in front of a screen (and really, who doesn't?), get ready to be sancti-mommied. A new study on kids and screen time claims too much time in front of the tube will make your kid too dumb for kindergarten. 


Okay, not quite. That's more how gleeful TV-free saints will surely be playing this one. The actual study, which comes from researchers at New York University and was published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, says watching more than two hours of TV a day can lower school readiness skills in toddlers.

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Specifically, the study found that TV watching was linked to decreases in math skills and executive function. Interestingly, they didn't find the same issues when it came to letter and word knowledge, which researchers said gets more attention by educational programmers.

They also found no link between TV watching and developmental delays in kids in high income homes (defined as $127,000 a year for a family of four). It's assumed that's because toddlers are more likely to watch educational programming in higher income homes -- although it's fair to say parents in the higher income bracket also have other means to enhance their kids' education that folks living below the poverty line don't have at their immediate disposal. 

In other words ... it may not be the TV that makes a big difference for kids. It may be the quality of the TV and the amount of supplementation. 

The NYU study, like many others, stops at kindergarten, and so do other learnings about what effect TV may or may not have on the brain. Researchers didn't follow the kids to first grade or longer to see if their learning skills would eventually even out. They didn't evaluate whether the kid who didn't know his 1s from his 5s at age 4 was equation-ready in sixth grade. Even studies that look at older kids tend to do so only with their current screen time habits under the microscope, rather than a comprehensive look at how the screens have affected them from babyhood onward.

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We know screens aren't great. But are they ruining our kids' futures? Apparently, not if they're watching the "right" TV, not if they're getting supplementation, and, well, maybe not at all. Certainly there are countless parents out there with fourth graders on the principal's list who will admit they used TV as a babysitter more than a few times over the years. 

Been there. Done that. I have an 11-year-old on the honor roll who is none-the-worse for her mother's having had to scrabble for childcare in the early days when money was tight. TV was something I never planned to have play a role in my child-rearing, but it did in the same way it does for many parents: as a necessary evil that enables the overwhelmed to get enough done to keep the house from falling down around our ears.

I did what I had to do and beat myself up for it, all while trying to mitigate any possible side effects with plenty of reading and other enrichment activities. She didn't just survive. She's thrived.

Anecdotal though that may be, the fact is, researchers haven't given us much to counteract the anecdotes. So give your kids screen time. Don't give your kids screen time. If you're a parent who cares enough to think about whether or not TV is good for kids, chances are you're also a parent who is doing other things to prep them for kindergarten and beyond.

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