Thoughts on screen time from Finnish media educators

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Picture: Abi, user of Momio Denmark

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Screen time is a much talked about issue in the digitalized world of today. Different kinds of screens, be that mobile phones, tablets, computer or TV screens, seem to take a lot of our time. At least in Finland the often used recommendation of screen time is two hours per day, and that seems to be awfully outdated.

The Finnish Society on Media Education wanted to investigate how Finnish media education professionals (e.g. people working in the field of media education and students of media education) perceive the term screen time. A questionnaire on the topic was opened for two weeks in April 2016. The initiative for the inquiry came from the Finnish Facebook group Media Educators’ Network (Mediakasvattajien verkosto).

In total, we received around 60 answers from media education professionals representing many different occupations and organizations from all over Finland. Most answers came from teachers, kindergarten teachers, youth workers, students, researchers, and library workers.

We set out to find answers for the following questions:

  1. Is screen time a relevant term when it comes to discussing the media use of children and the young?
  2. Are quantitative recommendations relating to media use necessary (e.g. how many hours are recommendable)?
  3. Should we make other kinds of recommendations concerning the media use of children and the young?

In addition, we aimed to find tips for how to approach, understand, and control media use of children and the young, and how professionals see the media education field of today in general – and where it is heading.

The respondents saw screen time both as a relevant and as an outdated term. Answers show a clear need for shared norms and recommendations to help parenting and education in the changed media landscape of today. However, the term ‘screen time’ was seen as too ambiguous – meaning that more of a qualitative approach and focus on the media contents themselves is needed. Quantitative (e.g. based on time) recommendations were seen as both necessary and unnecessary. The respondents saw recommendations necessary especially for young children, as they can make parents think more about the media use of their children and how it should be handled.

Content matters

What children actually do with their ‘screens’ and what kind of content they consume was seen as way more important than simply concentrating on time spent in front of screens. In addition, parents and educators should be interested in how children and the youth use media and one good way to do that is to learn from the children themselves about their media use. Naturally, time spent in front of screens should be reasonable and one should be able to self-regulate their media use. However, it is important to remember that children are individuals and what is too much time spent in front of a screen for one kid, may not be too much for another. Thus, we should aim for a balanced everyday life and well-being. Media education should be a part of education from early on, as it could help in this.

The respondents had many great thoughts about how to approach and understand children’s media use, such as media education for adults and benefitting from the knowhow of the young. Some current topics in media education and challenges for the future raised by the media education professionals were digitalization of education, accessibility, privacy, commercialization of media, children’s rights, and the division in the field of media education and the need for cooperation. Do these topics and issues sound familiar to you?

More conclusive report on the results of the study will be given later this fall, when “Screen Time Week”, an online campaign organized by the Finnish Society on Media Education together with its partners, will take place on the 10-14 October 2016. During this week, blog posts from Finnish and European media education professionals (including watAgame’s Silja Nielsen) will be posted on our website mediakasvatus.fi and the results from the study will be presented in different forms. A summary and a slideshow of the results will be available in English as well, as will some of the blog posts. It is going to be an interesting week – see  you in October!

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About the author:

Arla Pitkämäki, The Finnish Society on Media Education

The Finnish Society on Media Education, founded in 2005, is an association operating nationwide in two main languages (Finnish and Swedish). Our aim is to support and develop the field of research and practices concerning media education, contribute to the public debate and provide opportunities to share media education experiences online and offline. The main forum for Finnish media education is a website mediakasvatus.fi in Finnish, mediekunskap.fi in Swedish and mediaeducation.fi in English. Finnish Society on Media Education is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and by our members.

Arla Pitkämäki, Master of Arts, is an intern at the Finnish Society of Media Education. As minor subjects, she has studied Media Education and Communications, in which screen time has been a much talked about issue.