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First Person

Digital draw

Family therapist Robert Pressman, who studies the influence of screen time and home dynamics on kids’ ability to learn, is looking for parents to take his survey.

Family therapist Robert Pressman.

Gretchen Ertl

Family therapist Robert Pressman.

We ran two studies between 2011 and 2013, and findings strongly suggested that the more screen time children have, the lower their grades. Now we’re looking to connect those dots about homework, screen time, routines, parenting styles, and more. We’re using the technology we’ve become concerned about to get the information: Parents can fill out a 10-minute survey at learning-habit.com.

We believe there is going to be a negative correlation between the amount of screen time and grades, how a child gets along with others, and psychological factors. The other thing that will be important is parenting style. What will help children be successful, without parent intervention, eventually? We believe authoritative parenting, which sets up rules but does not micromanage, is far better than parents who have to sit on [their child] to get homework done.

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Technology is not all negative. It’s like water — we need to have water, but if we have too much, we drown. Technology is extraordinarily compelling. It’s addictive. It’s a time sink. Clinically, we have children spending hours with a screen after they go to [bed]. They may not go to sleep until 1 or 2 in the morning. Parents are exasperated; they have given up.

And it starts at an early age. The other day, in the elevator, a mother had two toddlers in this double [stroller] playing with some child-oriented screen. They weren’t interacting with each other, weren’t interacting with Mom. I try to be open-minded, to say it’s entertainment. Should it be eliminated? Definitely not. It’s an important advancement. I get the biggest kick out of seeing my 5-year-old granddaughter playing on her VTech while her older brother is engrossed in a new app on his iPad. I also wonder what impact it might have on them. Like most parents, I’m hoping to get some answers.   

— As told to Melissa Schorr (Interview has been edited and condensed.)

LEARN MORE Robert Pressman is the research director of Providence’s New England Center for Pediatric Psychology (pedipsyc.com).

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