Is that so terrible? Jordy Kaufman, who runs the Babylab research facility at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, said the impact of screen time on malleable young minds is “a big question without clear answers.” There’s a tendency, Dr. Kaufman said, to assume that screens are bad for infants because humans didn’t evolve with them. And the way that shows are tweaked for maximum addictiveness can make them seem like the audiovisual answer to junk food.
That said, it’s better for a child to experience something rather than nothing, he added, and given that youngsters will mature in a world where screens are ubiquitous, watching videos might help prepare them to navigate life.
For his part, Rechtman seems acutely aware that he stands astride a video goliath that might double as the planet’s fallback babysitter. Everything in moderation, he suggests, and kids should never skimp on face-to-face activity or exercise.
“Whether the perfect amount of screen time is two hours, four hours, or half an hour, I haven’t seen any studies showing what’s better or worse,” he said. “It just should not replace the time you’re outside bicycling or outside playing with your friends. That’s for sure.”
Many Moonbug shows urge viewers to get outdoors, and all come with unsubtle lessons about compassion, empathy, altruism and resilience. Whether these messages sink in, there’s no doubting the power of the shows to all but instantly tranquilize even the most discombobulated kid.
Like that 2-year-old in the blue T-shirt at the Moonbug office one recent afternoon. He’d shown up in the midst of a tantrum, which ended the second he heard the “CoComelon” theme song on that television.
It was no surprise to Wheeler, the head of research. “Ninety-nine percent of kids,” he said, “if they’re having issues when they get here, once that ‘CoComelon’ song comes on, they’re like, ‘Ah, life is OK. All is good with the world.’”
Audio produced by Tally Abecassis.