THE BLOG

It's Time to Demand More From Mobile Media

11/18/2013 12:07 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

When I read Common Sense Media's latest study, I was not surprised to learn that kids' use of and access to mobile devices has exploded over the past two years. As a mom of two teenagers, I have witnessed that explosion under my own roof. My daughters are completely attached to their smart phones and are never angrier with me than when I try to limit their time with them.

There is no doubt that mobile is a part of life for even our youngest kids today; according to the study, almost twice as many children have used mobile media compared to two years ago, and the average amount of time children spend using mobile devices has tripled. The question is: what is all of this media doing to, and for, our kids? And as parents, what's our role? With more media platforms than ever surrounding our kids, at times it may feel like we are in the middle of a giant science experiment and we have no way of knowing what the outcome will be.

What I have learned, both as a parent and as the head of PBS KIDS, is that while of course we should set limits on our kids' screen time, the issue is less about time spent with media or which devices we use; rather, we need to pay attention to the content that is being served up on those devices. All media has the power to teach something so it's up to us, as parents, to help guide our children to mobile content that enriches as it engages.

Research informs our work at PBS KIDS, and we have learned from studying kids' media use that educational content offers the opportunity for kids to practice skills and get feedback on their performance in real-time. We have also learned that touch screens are extremely intuitive for young children, making it easier for them to be engaged in media content without the barrier of a keyboard and mouse.

Mobile platforms also amplify the learning gains for children. PBS KIDS was part of one of the earliest studies of educational mobile apps a few years ago. Children from Title I schools participated in the study, which found that when apps are both fun and educational, kids can learn a lot from them. The study looked at our Super WHY! and Martha Speaks Dog Party apps and found that children made gains in vocabulary comprehension, letter-identification and rhyming after use of the apps.

This is exciting, especially when you consider the mobility of a smart phone or tablet. The power of educational content combined with the ability to take it anywhere you go offers incredible learning potential.

But we still have a long way to go to really tap into this opportunity. In this world of ever-more screens, all of us -- parents, teachers, caregivers, content providers -- need to demand even more from media for our kids. For this great experiment to pay off, we need to look at media as a launching pad for a whole lifetime of exploration.

Because after all -- shouldn't the kinds of things our children watch and engage with work a little harder to not just entertain, not just teach, but spark something that will continue to serve them for the rest of their lives?

I often think about this idea in terms of my own daughters. Like so many young women today, one of my daughters, who is in high school, struggles with math. I remember when she was very young she was extremely gifted when it came to building things with blocks and doing puzzles. I wish that at that time we had been able to provide her with interactive games and apps like the content we offer now from Peg + Cat, Curious George and other PBS KIDS series to leverage her excitement about building things to help her learn the math and engineering skills associated with these activities. If she were a young child today, the content that PBS has developed could have helped us capitalize on those early interests and channeled them into a lifelong love of math or engineering.

This philosophy is what guides our work at PBS KIDS, not just on mobile but on all media platforms. As the number-one and most trusted kids' educational media brand, it is our mission to use the power of media to open up worlds of possibilities for all children. The rise of mobile media platforms offers us an opportunity to do just that. We have been in the educational app space since day one and will continue to innovate on this platform to deliver curriculum and research-based content that encourages kids to learn and explore.

So the next time you're searching for an app to download onto your phone for your child or a website to browse on your tablet, think about what your child is passionate about, and look for content that builds on that excitement to help increase learning and encourage further exploration. After all, the greatest learning adventures happen after the screen is turned off.