Media Consumption & Technology vs. Creative Free Play for Children

The tug of war between media and children’s play has been around for decades now. Since the early days of tv, the debate has raged about whether media is detrimental to children’s development, pulling them away from play and other important childhood activities, or a valuable way for children to learn  and become “visually literate”. We have the same debate today regarding the vast array of media options kids can tune into – and perhaps become addicted to – tv, movies, videos, apps, computer software for children, and video games.


It is obvious to most sensible people that a child who spends 8 hours a day using media and spends little or none on active play has a serious problem which needs to be addressed.  On the other hand, most sensible people would also likely agree that media is not totally evil and can be helpful to learning, possibly even to creativity, at times in children’s growth process. However, the current research shows some worrisome data about the amount of couch-potato-time childen spend   – see Nielsen stats below.

child with television remote - too much tv viewing for young children? 

With that in mind, it was most interesting to read that the most techie of techie parents (successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs) are, in droves, sending their children to schools where technology is not part of the educational process until the late middle school years. Yes, indeed! It seems that Waldorf Schools, where open-ended child-initiated play is at the heart of the curriculum, is where Silicon Valley techie parents are sending their children. They recognize that play and creativity contribute invaluably to intellectual and personal growth as well as problem solving skills as adults, and that these qualities will get them further ahead in life than any technical training. (Read their rationale and their quotes in this recent NYTimes article.)


As someone who photo documents and video documents children, I see a lot of play. (Here’s  a short video Senisi Multimedia produced about play.) It’s hard not become a believer once you get immersed in observing their play. Children at play do, indeed, show charactertics that are the hallmarks of true creativity: flexibility of thinking, originality, ability to elaborate details, tolerance of ambiguity, and divergent thinking (where there is no single right answer).


In any case, I’d like the chance to go to one of those schools myself.  I think it’s time for a visit with the camera.


Viewing statistics from the Nielsen Co. (based on data gathered in 2009 – view original report here)

— kids aged 2 – 5:   24 hrs. and 51. min per week of tv but over 32 hrs. a week if counting tv plus dvd, dvr, vcr, and game console

 — kids aged 6 – 11:   22 hrs. and 9 min. per week of tv but over 28 hrs. a week if counting tv plus dvd, dvr, vcr, and game console