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Screen Time Study Finds Education Drop-Off

By Motoko Rich

With children spending more time in front of screens than ever, parents sometimes try to convince themselves that playing Angry Birds teaches physics, or that assembling outfits on a shopping app like Polyvore fires creativity.

According to a study, however, less than half the time that children age 2 to 10 spend watching or interacting with electronic screens is with what parents consider “educational” material. Most of that time is from watching television, with mobile devices contributing relatively little educational value.

What is more, the study, by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a nonprofit research institute affiliated with the Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit producer of “Sesame Street,” shows that as children spend more time with screens as they get older, they spend less time doing educational activities, with 8- to 10-year-olds spending about half the time with educational content that 2- to 4-year-olds do.

According to the survey, 2- to 4-year-olds spent a little over two hours a day on screen, with one hour and 16 minutes  of educational time, while 8- to 10-year-olds spent more than two and a half hours a day on screen, but only 42 minutes was considered educational. The survey was based on interviews with 1,577 parents and conducted online from June 28 to July 24 by GfK, a research company.

The survey allowed parents to assess whether a game or program taught social and emotional skills, as well as cognitive learning related to vocabulary, math or science.

The survey said lower-income families reported that their children spent more time with educational programming on screen than middle-income and higher-income families did. Families earning less than $25,000 said 57 percent of their children’s screen time was educational, while families earning $50,000 to $99,000 said it was 38 percent.

Michael H. Levine, the executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, said that particularly for the most vulnerable children who might falter in their academic careers, “we need to have a better balance in the way these media are used.”

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