Turnoff Week, formerly Turn-off TV Week and now in its ninth year, calls for people around the world to turn off their electronics, disengage from digital media and take a moment to think, read and create. It's an important message, but one that is far too simplistic. If we simply turn off for a week, what will change? Will that help us make better choices about how our families use media?
The reality is that media consumption is increasing for kids, across many platforms, including television, web, videogames and mobile. It's critical to consider not only the amount of time kids are spending with these screens, but what kind of experiences they are having when they are watching, surfing, playing and socializing. Instead of challenging families to simply flip the switch off, we need to help parents make informed decisions about what gets turned on -- because the right media choices can make a difference in helping children reach their full potential.
Moderation is an important part of the solution, but we should not forget that media companies producing for children bear the responsibility of creating content that engages, entertains, challenges and educates children. Thoughtful, well-produced and researched media is readily available and the evidence that it can support childhood education is well documented. We know from research by the University of Pennsylvania at Annenberg that media that is carefully designed can be a boon to kids' learning. For example, watching as few as two episodes of the PBS KIDS series Super WHY! resulted in children scoring 46% higher on standardized tests than children who did not watch the show. And it's not just on TV -- another recent study found vocabulary improved by as much as 31 percent in children who played with an iPhone application based on the PBS series Martha Speaks. Media has the power to open doors for children, encouraging their natural curiosity and sparking creativity. Let's work together to maximize the quality of the time our kids spend with screens, to help them reach their highest potential.
Lesli Rotenberg is Senior Vice President of Children's Media at PBS, and a mother of two media-savvy daughters.