As a parent, there’s always something to feel guilty about. Have you delivered five serves of veggies? Did you forget the sunscreen this morning? Did they push your buttons so hard that your Batman voice reared it’s head? Whatever we have to feel guilty about, screen time is often at the top of the guilt tree for many parents. Whilst most reports advise that it’s ‘bad’, the huge amount of misinformation out there makes it impossible to be an informed parent.
Fortunately, we embarked on a mission to find out if screen time can actually be a good thing. And we were positively surprised.
What is screen time?
Before we go throwing all devices out the window, let’s look at the facts. Screen time isn’t just using mobile phones and iPads. It encompasses watching television, writing a letter on a laptop, playing a dancing game, racing cars on a gaming console and even chatting to a loved one through FaceTime. Many of these things can be valuable and engaging activities to share with our children.
Can screen time be a good thing?
Recent studies have found some benefits
to allowing children to enjoy some screen time.
A longitudinal study of three to five-year-olds found that children enjoy reading more when they are using a touch screen.
“When we explored the relationship between the media children use and their enjoyment of reading, we found that more children who read using print and touch screen enjoy reading a lot more than children who read print only (77.4% vs. 70.8%),” said the Parents’ perspectives: Children’s use of technology in the Early Years report by the UK’s National Literacy Trust.
This study also found that touch screen devices can offer disadvantaged children a pathway into reading. “Poorer children who use both books and touch screens to look at stories are less likely to perform below the expected standard for their age than if they only look at books,” the report continued. “Not only does technology offer a route into reading for disadvantaged children, we also found that children are more likely to enjoy reading if they look at stories using both books and a touch screen, compared with using books only (77.4% vs. 70.8%).”
Heather Kirkorian from the University of Wisconsin-Madison told New Scientist that the content of the games or programs that kids enjoy has a large role to play. The cognitive development student said, “The best research suggests that the content children view is the best predictor of cognitive effects. Children will learn from what they watch, whether that means learning letters and numbers, slapstick humour or aggressive behaviour.”
Content is key
While the jury appears to be out on whether screen time is good or bad for our kids, some studies are suggesting that we shouldn’t be forbidding our kids from using these technologies. These studies suggest that screens may even be providing our kids with a richer learning experience. Content is key, therefore, it is important to consider the type of screen time kids are enjoying when establishing any boundaries at home.
Bethany Koby, CEO and co-founder of Technology Will Save Us says that screen time can be a very passive activity, “where children become completely engrossed and detached from all communication, interaction and participation in the family.” This passive consumption of media removes kids from reality and doesn’t exercise their brain.
However, there are huge opportunities for the digital world to do the opposite, when children are channeled into activities where they are engaging and creating, rather than passively observing.
It is also important that they have opportunities to interact with others around screens – this is where parents and carers need to jump in and get involved in screen time.
“Screen time is just another of those moments in life where you can engage with your child, and find out what they’re exploring and learning,” Bethany says. Spend some time watching them play a game and encourage them to explain what they’re doing, or help them research their school project online. This interaction will also help them to engage more outside of their screen usage.
‘Good’ screen time
With the right content, screen time can have a number of benefits for kids. By using interactive and engaging apps, educational experiences can be enhanced and learning becomes both fun and accessible. Being digitally literate from a young age can help to prepare children for future learning. Puzzles and interactive games can encourage critical thinking and problem solving in real time. Collaborative games can build communication skills, as kids chat with friends and relatives. Creative apps encourage kids to draw, paint, write code, take photos and make movies – without needing any complicated equipment.
It’s all about balance
Sadly, screen time can go hand-in-hand with kids becoming more sedentary. And with obesity on the rise, screen time is all about balance.
The Department of Health recommends that “children younger than two years of age should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games).” For children 2 to 5 years of age, it recommends that “sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic media (DVDs, computer and electronic games) should be limited to less than one hour per day.”
When used for ‘good’, screen time can enrich a child’s life, if that child is also getting plenty of opportunities to get outside and play. It’s all about how you use it. As well as teaching kids to be savvy about being digitally safe, we also need to teach them how to be an active participant in what they consume, to be discerning about what type of content they are consuming and to use digital technology in a way that contributes to their growth.
Positive screen time ideas
- Use photo editing software to edit pictures they’ve taken
- Create a movie about the family pet
- Write a blog about their passion
- Use programs such as Scratch Jr to create games and make music
- Ask your child a big question and have them research it
- If your child loves YouTube, set them a challenge to learn a new skill such as origami or juggling instead of watching their favourite Vlogger
- Call grandparents or extended family on FaceTime
- Reading e-books is just as valid reading as a printed book, most e-readers also have a dictionary so children can look up words they don’t know
- Keep your own personal viewing habits low
- Make mealtimes screen free
- Keep screens out of bedrooms
- Don’t use screens one hour before bedtime
- Set age appropriate boundaries
- Get involved in their screen time
For more technology tips, try 6 kids coding programs where you don’t have to be a tech expert and My child wants a phone – what now?