Computer kiosks in the exhibit gallery shortly after the Museum opened in 2005
Should the Children’s Museum of the East End introduce more technology into its interpretive programming? Like most other children’s museums, we have long grappled with this question. On the one hand, digital technology can add an exciting “wow” factor to our hands-on exhibitions, but it risks fostering a more isolating and inauthentic museum experience.
When CMEE opened in 2005, the exhibition gallery featured half-a-dozen touch-screen kiosks with interactive games. Since then, digital technology has increasingly become more sophisticated so the touch screens were obsolete after just a few years. Before updating them, Museum staff surveyed our patrons for their input. The consensus was that since children were already surrounded by digital technology, we should eliminate the kiosks and have CMEE remain an “analog” environment. According to one mom, “children are exposed to screens and other technology at home, at school, and even at the library – they don’t need it at the Children’s Museum, too.”
As a parent, I agree that screens don’t belong at the Children’s Museum. I appreciate that there are apps and shows that are educational and are intended to foster family engagement. In fact, after my four-year-old son asked me what parasailing was, I decided to show him a video that demonstrated it because he didn’t comprehend my verbal explanation. We also use Facetime or Skype to keep in touch with family members who live far away. Overall, however, in my experience, screens are very isolating. If I’m watching television or looking at something on my phone, I’m not paying attention to who else is in the room. Why should I expect my children to be any different?
Recently, I learned that kids are devoting far more time to digital media than they are playing outside. For example, according to research by Common Sense Media, children between the ages of 2 and 8 watch a screen more than 2 ½ hours each day. In contrast, they’re playing outside only 30 minutes each day. It worries me that our children spend five times longer in the virtual world than they do in the real one.
Perhaps I’m overreacting? After all, I remember often watching hours of television each day as a child and I hope I turned out okay. How do you deal with screen time with your family? Please share your strategies for parenting in the smartphone age by sending me a message directly or sharing it on our Facebook page.