Even Infants Have a Range of Perceptions When They Watch Screens

Posted on August 5, 2020 at 8:00 am

We have just begun to explore the complexities and wide range of differences in the way individuals watch and respond to what we see on screens. A new study about babies shows that these differences are present at birth. While these study results are illuminating, it does not change my firm position of no screen time before age three and no more than an hour a day and no theatrical screens before age five.

Children’s own temperament could be driving the amount of TV they watch – according to new research from the University of East Anglia and Birkbeck, University of London.

Copyright 2009 Carolien Dekeersmaeker

New findings published today show that the brain responses of 10-month-old babies could predict whether they would enjoy watching fast-paced TV shows six months later.

The research team says that the findings are important for the ongoing debate around early TV exposure.

Lead researcher Dr Teodora Gliga, from UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “The sensory environment surrounding babies and young children is really complex and cluttered, but the ability to pay attention to something is one of the first developmental milestones in babies.

“Even before they can ask questions, children vary greatly in how driven they are to explore their surroundings and engage with new sights or sounds.

“We wanted to find out why babies appear to be so different in the way that they seek out new visual sensory stimulation – such as being attracted to shiny objects, bright colours or moving images on TV.

“There have been various theories to explain these differences, with some suggesting that infants who are less sensitive will seek less stimulation, others suggesting that some infants are simply faster at processing information – an ability which could drive them to seek out new stimulation more frequently.

“In this study we bring support for a third theory by showing that a preference for novelty makes some infants seek more varied stimulation.”

Using a brain imaging method known as electroencephalography (EEG), the research team studied brain activity in 48 10-month old babies while they watched a 40-second clip from the Disney movie Fantasia on repeat.

They studied how the children’s brain waves responded to random interruptions to the movie – in the form of a black and white chequerboard suddenly flashing on screen.

Dr Gliga said: “As the babies watched the repeated video clip, EEG responses told us that they learned its content. We expected that, as the video became less novel and therefore engaged their attention less, they would start noticing the checkerboard.

“But some of the babies started responding to the checkerboard earlier on while still learning about the video – suggesting that these children had had enough of the old information.

“Conversely, others remained engaged with the video even when there was not much to learn from it,” she added.

Parents and carers were also asked to fill in a questionnaire about their babies’ sensory behaviours – including whether they enjoyed watching fast-paced brightly-coloured TV shows. This was followed up with a second similar questionnaire six months later.

Dr Gliga said: “It was very interesting to find that brain responses at 10 months, indicating how quickly infants switched their attention from the repeated video to the checkerboard, predicted whether they would enjoy watching fast-paced TV shows six months later.

“These findings are important for the ongoing debate on early TV exposure since they suggest that children’s temperament may drive differences in TV exposure.

“It is unlikely that our findings are explained by early TV exposure since parents reported that only a small proportion of 10-month-olds were watching TV shows,” she added.

Elena Serena Piccardi, from Birkbeck, University of London, said: “The next part of our research will aim to understand exactly what drives these individual differences in attention to novelty, including the role that early environments may have.

“Exploration and discovery are essential for children’s learning and cognitive development. Yet, different children may benefit from different environments for their learning. As such, this research will help us understand how individualized environments may nurture children’s learning, promote their cognitive development and, ultimately, support achievement of their full potential.

The research was led by UEA in collaboration with Birkbeck, University of London and Cambridge University. It was funded by the Medical Research Council.

‘Individual differences in infant visual sensory seeking’ is published in the journal Infancy on August 5, 2020.




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The Real Rainbow: “black-ish” Inspiration Dr. Rainbow Edwards Barris on Parenting, Marriage, and What You Don’t See on TV

Posted on May 22, 2018 at 8:00 am

Copyright Kingswell 2018

Last weekend at DC’s first-ever Momference, doctor, mother of six, and inspiration for her namesake character on the hit television series, “black-ish,” Rainbow Edwards-Barris described a conversation she had with one of her sons after he was less than polite to her friend. “I told him to treat a girl like she is treasured and honored and honorable,” she said. “It is important to instill in my boys especially.”  The Momference was a truly inspiring event “designed to Engage, Equip and Empower the melanated, millennial mom.”  I wrote about it for Medium.  Edwards-Barris was one of the highlights and I had a chance to talk to her one-on-one about her new book, written in the voice of the character she inspired, Dr. Rainbow Johnson, portrayed by Tracee Ellis Ross.

Dr. Barris told me that she recently discovered notes she had made nine years ago, long before “black-ish,” with some of her thoughts about parenting, and that helped her begin to think about what she wanted to cover in her wise, funny, and inspiring book. I asked if she ever found herself doing something her mother did that she swore she would never do, and she admitted she had finally resorted to a “Because I said so.” But “I corrected myself. I went back and told him I made a mistake. I said, ‘You’re teaching me as much as I hope I’m teaching you.’” She said that her husband, Kenya Barris, asked how she would feel about a storyline on “black-ish” about the Johnsons having marital problems. “I was very supportive that it show this side of the couple, so people know they’re not alone. No one’s life is perfect. Couples go through tough times but it is not not repairable, not something that can’t be overcome, not something that can’t be a lesson.” The book gives you “the episodes you don’t see on television, and it gives you Rainbow’s perspective.” Both Rainbows.

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Interview with Nicole Dreiske: ScreenSmart(tm) Kids Are Kinder, Smarter, Closer

Posted on May 2, 2018 at 8:54 pm

Fake news. Invasion of privacy. Bullying. Distraction. We are surrounded by complaints and fears about the impact of digital media on all of us, especially on our children. It is hard for parents to understand what it is like for the generation who cannot remember a time when people talked to each other for 15 minutes without checking their devices.

We cannot go backward. They are always going to be a part of our lives. But we can learn to use them better. Nicole Dreiske’s new book, The Upside of Digital Devices: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart, Literate, and Emotionally Intelligent, is filled with thoughtful, constructive, guilt-free ideas about how to help families get the most and the best from the digital world. In an interview, she talked about how parents and teachers can make sure children are “screen smart” and use technology to make them smarter, kinder, and closer. It has some excellent tools for adults to use to improve their own relationship to devices, too. Her most important advice: model good behavior yourself because that is the most powerful lesson.

Copyright 2018 HCI

It drives me crazy when I see children in the back of a car looking at devices instead of talking, listening to music, or just looking out the window. Am I wrong?

Putting DVD players in cars paved the way to the passback phenomenon when parents who were driving surrendered their phones to young children. The family car became an extended screening room dedicated to eradicating the possibility that children will spend a nanosecond without external entertainment. Just because we can put screens in cars doesn’t mean we should.

It’s a great loss to children and parents, masquerading under the guise of a convenience. If you give children yet another chance to spend time with “the adult free zone” of screens you’re just losing another great time to connect with your kids and turning yourself into a chauffeur.

Travel, even in predictable short distances, can broaden the mind and uplift the spirit. I’ve had great conversations during windscreen time, been amazed by the beauty of the sky and by gazing out at the human condition. More importantly, on long trips I was forced to spend time with my own mind something that’s crucial for developing grit, persistence and self-awareness. Yep, you can get all that from a long car trip if you’re not glued to a screen.

We’re cheating our children, cheapening a precious opportunity and creating habits of isolation rather than habits of connection by letting screens dominate the interior landscapes of our vehicles.

Many people think that digital media and devices shorten attention spans. Do you agree?

Yes. Any early childhood teacher who’s taught for a couple of decades will tell you that the shortened attention span is real. First, commercials took a toll on attention span with the expectation that there would be programming breaks every five minutes or so. The endless exposure to short YouTube videos also has a lot to answer for. But the more pernicious problem is the slavish devotion to instant response that drives software development because it creates then exploits your expectation that you’ll be amused (aka distracted) by the visual effects of a swipe or cool graphics during every nanosecond of screen time. This “cool upgrade” not only shortens attention spans, it functionally infantilizes children and adults, reducing not only our ability to focus, but the emotional stability to tolerate any disturbance in the delivery of desired images or actions. Fostering dependence on instant gratification is a slippery slope since we know that patience and self control are some of the most accurate and consistent predictors of success in later life.

What is the best way for families to counter fake news messages that kids and adults receive online, especially in social media?

This is a complex question because so many adults are still struggling to figure out how to counter fake news, especially with the advent of new software that is so powerful that it can manipulate public figures.

First, you need to have good communication structures in place with your children. This means that listening, caring Q & A, and sharing (the hallmarks of real dialogue) are in your wheelhouse along with “laying down the rules.”

Second, have a plan and practice. Start with a fake news topic that unifies your family beliefs and sympathies, rather than with a fake news topic that’s divisive. Building a practice on common ground is better than building a practice on shifting terrain.

Third, involve your kids directly in finding the truth. They’re creative and resourceful and can contribute to the solution in ways that help them learn! A lot depends on the topic and on the ages of your children but I think the best family practices are active and build on children’s strengths and interests.

-Frame ‘the search for facts’ as a challenge for older kids and a game for younger children to find out more about the topic and make it fun to share what they find.
-Teach them how to use keywords and “dig” through the internet.
-Show them the best de-bunking sites, and how to assess and compare the merits of something they’ve read.
-Let them show off and share at the dinner table or a family meeting.

Copyright 2018 Nicole Dreiske

What is the best way for parents and schools to prevent/respond to bullying via social media?

Stop handing kids powerful machines and walking away. You can’t just do a “tech drop” and expect your kids to know how to handle one of the most powerful devices ever created. The internet alone gives them worldwide access to unlimited content and information without the maturity, brain development, empathy or guidance to know what to do with that access. Again, for parents the answer lies in good communication skills.

You already teach your children social skills, empathy and civility by example and instruction. Because digital devices are social media tools, it’s logical for us to extend those social skills to phones, tablets and computers.

At home or in school, start the ball rolling by helping children understand bullying before they have social media accounts. Talk in simple terms about what bullying is, let them know it’s unacceptable and make sure they know how to get help. Schools can offer digital citizenship classes at all grade levels. Then keep the lines of communication open by checking in (really listening and checking in often) about school, friends, non-friends and concerns.

What does it mean to be “screen smart” and how can parents demonstrate good device skills and behavior?

Being screen smart is an active, fun process. It means you’re aware of yourself and your responses, not just what’s on the screen. And it’s something kids learn quickly because they love screens and love talking about their experiences.

The best part is that they’re in control of what they learn. They know when they’re being screen smart and when they’re not. Layer by layer, they put all the skills together and they use them they want to be screen smart.

Here’s a short Screen SmartTM primer.

· When I turn on a screen, I use my energy and concentration to keep my mind awake.
· I notice what I’m thinking and feeling while using the screen.
· I especially notice what I like, what I don’t like and why.
· I notice DETAILS in movies, games, apps — plot, character, setting, music, dialogue, problem, solution, effects, colors, shapes.
· I talk about what I watch and what I feel and think about what I see on any screen.
Parents can start the process by opening the door to dialogue and by not segregating screen time from family time. Just letting your kids know they can come to you with their questions, fears or concerns about screen experiences gives the process big boost. Then make sure you’re modeling healthy screen habits yourself! If you’re phone-obsessed yourself and your kids see you texting and talking while driving, all bets are off.

Should families put limits on screen time?

Don’t you put limits on bed-time? Candy? Sugary drinks? Kids need structure in order to thrive and limits on screen time are part of those structures because screens are part of family life.

Set screen limits early and stick to them. When you establish those limits as a basic family structure without drama, they’re easier to sustain

But don’t expect limits to do the heavy lifting when it comes to talking with children about content, good screen citizenship and screen etiquette. Limits are a starting point, not an endgame. You can actually use a talk about limits to start giving children guidance about screens and opening the door to dialogue that I mentioned earlier.

What can schools do to emphasize the “upside” of digital media?

Start making classroom connections to “the stories on screens” so young children know that stories aren’t just in books, assign “media reports” for narrative fiction films or programs and provide the same guidelines and structures that you would for a book report. Make sure kids are taking home their literacy skills and applying them to screens. Adopt a school wide “digital citizenship” curriculum as the first mainstay against bullying. Become a phone free school and have children keep their phones in their lockers. And when the weather drives kids indoors during for recess, don’t stick them in front of screens for mindless viewing!

And you can reach out to me at the ICMC. I’m here to help and I’ve taught thousands of children and teachers how to turn on their minds before turning on their screens.

What differences do you see in kids who have become “screen smart?”

Too many to share! We chart ten outcomes including improved literacy skills and inferential reasoning, but here are my top two for the homefront:

When kids can notice and talk about how they feel while playing games and watching movies, they start communicating with their parents about their screen time experiences and making more mature screen choices on their own. That’s been the case since the very first Screen Smart residency where teachers told us that children only three or four years old were telling their parents to turn off the tablet or the tv!

Just last year an astonished parent reached out to me, saying, “My son was watching something on our television and told me to turn it off because he wasn’t being screen smart.”

Children also start developing and building kindness and empathy by focusing on how the characters are feeling. Kids who are screen smart pick up on the details that convey emotions, for example, facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. As they get better at identifying the feelings of others, they also make empathetic connections: What if that happened to me, how would I feel? What would I do differently in that situation? Screen smart skills help kids connect emotional intelligence to screen use so they practice it every time they watch, or use an app or play a gain. Empathy and compassion are like muscles. You have to use them to develop them. Imagine how much more empathetic your children will be if they exercise those kindness and empathy muscles regularly while using screens.

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Do Babies Learn to Swipe Before They Learn to Talk?

Posted on June 2, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Personal cloud storage company MiMedia has released the results of a survey of parents.

76% of parents admit to running out of storage on their phones from taking too many photos/videos of their kids
71% think Moms take more photos of their kids than Dads
Nearly 3 out of 5 parents (58%) say their child (age 0-3) was able to operate a touchscreen digital device by swiping before they learned to speak
57% think Moms share too many baby photos on social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
Almost half (47%) of parents say their child (age 0-3) likes taking selfies
47% of parents share at least 1 photo/video on average of their child (age 0-3) per day, whereas 34% don’t share any
1 out of 3 parents (34% ) takes 1 video on average of their child (age 0-3) per day, whereas 13% of parents take 5+ videos on average of their child (age 0-3) per day
28% take 2 photos on average of their child (age 0-3) per day
Almost 1 out of 3 parents (28%) admits to taking substantially more photos of their first born than other children
22% of parents take 5+ photos on average of their child (age 0-3) per day
13% of parents take 5+ videos on average of their child (age 0-3) per day

Parents should be careful to make sure they are spending more time interacting with their children than taking pictures and videos of them — and that children learn about how to behave with people before they learn about how to interact with machines.

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Commentary Parenting Preschoolers Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Rawdon Messenger, CEO of TeenSafe, Talks About Online Safety

Posted on January 15, 2016 at 7:00 am

Many thanks to Rawdon Messenger, CEO of TeenSafe, who answered my questions about keeping tweens and teens safe online.

At what age do most kids get their first cell phone or iPad?

The age is getting younger and younger. Pew predicts that 90% of 6 year olds will have a smartphone by 2020.
We are seeing younger children getting iPads (around 5 years) then graduating to smartphones around 10 years.
More research here.

Copyright Nell Minow 2015
Copyright Nell Minow 2015

Ten years ago, parents were most often less adept with technology than their kids. Is that still the case or are today’s parents of tweens and teens themselves young enough to be digital natives?

Kids are learning and adopting new technology faster than their parents. They are also far more socially integrated online than most parents understand. Even though most parents know what SnapChat is, they don’t really understand how to use or communicate using it. Furthermore there are so many new apps appearing that it’s hard for parents to know what’s what. We feel it is very important that parents take time to understand not only what apps their children are using, but also how they are using them. It’s a great way to connect with your child and learn from them.

How did you become interested in “blacklist apps?” What exactly are they?

There are many apps that we think simply are inappropriate for children. No parent would want their thirteen year old using dating apps where they could “hook-up” with adults or using anonymous messaging apps which are full of trolls and bullies. Parents need to be more aware of what these apps are and the dangers they can pose for our kids. They can then make the right decision as to whether to allow their children to use them.

We believe that parents must parent their children’s digital lives to the same extent they do their physical lives. Handing a child a smartphone with no restrictions or rules is irresponsible.

Who develops these apps? Where do kids find out about them?

The apps are usually developed by young entrepreneurs and, if they become popular (which they can very quickly), they often get given lots of money by financiers to grow and establish further their apps. Children learn about these apps from each other as the new cool way to connect and communicate.

How should parents talk to tweens and teens about online safety?

This is the most important thing. A parent needs to think carefully about the issues their child may face in the digital life – bullying, sexting, inappropriate content, too much screen time, distraction, etc. They also need to think about where their child is developmentally. Then talk about what they are doing with their device. Ask the about who they interact with and how? And what they think is bad behavior and how they handle it when they see it. Give feedback. It is very import to be clear about what are the big no-no’s and why.

Do you recommend any special rules or contracts for kids with their first phones?


  • Only allow access to age-appropriate apps
  • Restrict access to the device for gaming/pleasure especially during the week.
  • Take phone away after bedtime, homework time, meal times
  • No strangers on social media. And privacy setting should only allow friends to view their accounts.
  • Parent should have all passwords and be able to monitor behavior when they need


Are schools doing a good job of informing kids about online risks?

Many schools are. They have programs on Digital Citizenship and clear rules on conduct while at school. Things get complicated as children misbehave on social media. Is it school business to monitor and guide children behavior online?

PTAs (many of whom, TeenSafe supports) do a great job organizing seminar for parents and students.
Things are evolving so fast, that it is a big challenge to understand the issues, define policy and then educate on these issues.

Do you have any data on use of these apps?

We do not track the usage of the children being monitored on our service. That data is private and is only available to the parents of the children.

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