Wired has published an article outlining the concept of a food pyramid-like approach to children’s media consumption. At first, the thought may seem silly, as food and media are very different things. However, if one were to look at media consumption the same way one looks at nutrition, then the control, portioning, and prioritizing make sense.
An important aspect of applying the concept is to differentiate kinds of media and their uses. For example, spending time on a computer for playing video games should be treated differently from using the computer for schoolwork. Just like food, each kind of media is unique and has its own good and bad properties.
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The article outlines four tiers of media consumption time and categorizes the usual media kids consume in each. The top of the pyramid are media that one must “use sparingly.” These include using any screens before bed, having a TV play in the background, and watching anything during meal time. Below that tier, there are media that one may “use occasionally.” YouTube is on this list because of potential questionable content a kid can stumble upon. Others include first-person shooter video games and social media.
The bottom two levels of the pyramid are larger, so it’s okay to use them more than the previously mentioned forms of media. The third tier are those that one should “use moderately”: interactive Ebooks, movies or TV shows, active TV or videos (The Wiggles is a good example), and active video games (like those on the Wii and Kinect). The bottom level and largest tier are those that a kid can “use freely.” These forms of media include video chats with family, PBS co-viewing, skill building and creating apps (Scratch, for example, teaches kids to build code), affinity groups, music, audiobooks, and podcasts.
At all levels, parents should still supervise the media their kids consume. Using this guideline, parents can teach healthy usage of media and technology. In today’s digital age, it would be impractical to completely ban a kid from media, so the better approach would be to teach healthy habits and usage. It’s important to highlight in-person interactions, and free-use of all media won’t help teach these vital social skills.