Our inaugural conference was a resounding success!

On April 20 and 21 in Boston, the Children’s Screen Time Action Network convened the very first multi-disciplinary conference to reduce children’s screen time.  In the midst of national conversations about screen time, data privacy, and persuasive design,  teachers, practitioners, advocates and parents came together to collaborate on real solutions to children’s overuse of digital devices.

Couldn't make it? Click here for our interactive schedule, with links to speaker slides and handouts.

Next Steps

Working groups formed at the Conference have already started collaborating on projects to reduce children’s screen time. Our current working groups are:


  • Screens in Schools
  • Early Childhood 
  • Mental Health Professionals 
  • Children and Nature
  • Faith Communities
  •  

To join a group or get more information, email jean@commercialfreechildhood.org.

Conference Highlights

Doug Gentile set the stage for the two-day event by presenting his landmark research on brain development and children’s screen time. In his keynote “This IS Brain Science!”, Dr. Gentile explained that violent media and bedroom screens are two harmful practices parents can avoid immediately.

Josh Golin and Jenny Radesky shed light on the myriad ways in which much of children’s media is designed for the benefit of advertisers, not kids, beginning with toddler apps which tempt children to make in-app purchases and start the cycle of commercialism and materialism.  David Monahan and Sriram Madhosoodanan revealed marketers’ unprecedented direct access to children through mobile devices and tablets. They highlighted key policies created to protect kids from harmful marketing which have been weakened or not updated for the Internet age.

Meghan Owenz introduced her S.P.O.I.L system (Social, Free Play, Outdoor, Independent, Literacy) ) and urged practitioners to teach parents about the non-screen activities essential for a healthy childhood. She encouraged practitioners to spend twice as much time talking with parents about what they should do, rather than focusing exclusively on restricting screen time.

Both Richard Freed and Criscillia Benford addressed Silicon Valley’s use of persuasive design techniques to keep kids glued to devices. Dr. Freed focused on the tech industry’s use of psychology to manipulate children while Dr. Benford’s session, “It’s not you. It’s your phone” encouraged participants to incorporate an understanding of how tech is designed into their work with families.

Educators made up a large portion of attendees, addressing issues from screen use in infant and toddler settings to the 10-day Screen-Free Challenge offered to high school students in Canada and France. Teachers Matt Miles and Joe Clement, authors of Screen Schooled, presented an alarming picture of the missing skills children need for the real world when screens dominate their days.  A “Screens in Schools” workgroup was formed for those wanting to push back against ed tech hype and advocate for limits on using digital devices for schoolwork.

Where many speakers addressed the how of reducing screen time, Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige illustrated the why. In her keynote, “Young Children and Technology, Risks and Hopes,” she used real-life examples to demonstrate how toddlers and young children develop essential life skills with hands-on, screen-free activities that can never be replaced by an app.

Multiple presenters urged helping parents realize they are role models. Victoria Dunckley in her keynote “The Overstimulated Child,” suggested parents make a pledge to only use phones, iPads and computers for a certain block of time each day while children are present (for example, 5-6 p.m. in the evening), and implement a consequence, such as a $1 payment to an offense jar, when a parent breaks the rule. In this way children understand that parents are setting their own limits, not just reprimanding them to put down the devices.

A palpable spirit of collaboration dominated the two-day conference with over 180 attendees many of whom had followed each other’s work for years. Many also expressed relief that the many facets of reducing children’s screen time could be addressed in one place—creating a broader understanding of the topic than the sensational or alarmist sound bites presented in the media itself.

We thank the many creative and knowledgeable presenters who donated their time to the first Action Network Conference and the attendees who took time out of their busy schedules to join us. We look forward to seeing the collaborations that develop out of the conference.

And a special shout out to author and comedian Paula Poundstone, whose insights about our relationships with screens were both profound and hilarious. We thank Paula for her passionate commitment to reducing children’s screen time and her donation of conference sales of her book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, to the Action Network.

Handouts and slides provided by conference presenters are available at bit.ly/ActionNetworkHandouts.