The verdict is in from child development experts at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center: today’s children do not, and will not, learn from their massive media consumption without help from their parents.
A crowd of 30 undergraduates, graduate students, and professors gathered at William L. Harkness Hall Friday to hear the center’s Michael Levine and Lori Takeuchi discuss the “new and forceful phenomenon” of children’s interaction with digital media. Hosted by Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development, Levine and Takeuchi did not mince their words. Even 8-year-olds, they said, punctuate their days with substantial media exposure through television and the internet.
The question now is how to make this media beneficial to children, the speakers said.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, named for Sesame Street co-founder and children’s media research pioneer Joan Cooney, has published numerous reports on how to manage the increasing involvement of media in children’s lives.
Discussing what they called “media multi-tasking,” Levine and Takeuchi outlined a newly emerging ethos.
“[It’s] always elsewhere, never down-time, never alone, [and] always connected,” Levine, also a senior associate of the Zigler Center, said.
With constant media use taken for granted, few realize just how much time they actually spend in front of screens, Levine said.
Media is increasingly present in students’ lives, for instance, as entertainment during studying and as a topic of conversation. Television’s hold is apparently as strong as ever, the speakers said, but handheld games and other mobile media now supplement this. Here lie the roots of media multi-tasking, they said.
Heavy media consumption can be harmful for comprehension and task completion, Levine said, adding that statistics show that struggling learners in particular tend to spend a lot of time engaged with media.
“What’s the chicken and what’s the egg there?” he asked.
Parents today, Levine and Takeuchi suggested, should formulate a healthy media diet for their children. By consuming media with their children, parents can actively guide them to its educational value, Levine added. But parents should be discerning in the media they select for their children.
“[Multimedia lines like] Baby Mozart, etc. just are not effective,” he said. “They’re not harmful, [but] ‘passive consumption’ just is not as good.”
Assistant director of the Zigler Center, Sandra Bishop said she thought the talk was relevant to modern parenting.
“[Media growth has] been a huge explosion,” Bishop said. “Parents and teachers need to be informed.”
Serena Candelaria ’14 agreed, saying that access to media should be restricted for children.
The Zigler Center invites child development researchers to speak at Yale every Friday.