Screen time refers to the amount of time spent on the internet, television, games and other screen technology.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently released a set of guidelines regarding appropriate use of screen time. Some of these recommendations include that:
- Children aged between 2 and 5 should be limited to one hour of high quality programs per day
- Children 6 years and over should be set sensible and consistent limits.
Did anyone else read those guidelines and cringe with guilt? I know I did! Oops…
Warning: Introducing screen time too early may result in accidental purchase of Ferrari
Screen time is often demonised, at best as a default babysitter for lazy parents and at worst, as an instrument of our moral decline. Yikes.
However, screens are not going away anytime soon and in fact, some screen-based activities can yield positive outcomes for our children.
Here are some ways to optimise screen time for your children.
Keep up their tech skills…
At the very least, screen time helps to update tech skills which are important in today’s world and vital for your children’s education and future employment.
As a side benefit, these tech skills are handy to have around the home. Remember being the only one in the house who could (subtle brag coming) program a VCR? Now you can commission your tech savvy kids for projects such as hooking up the what’s-it into the thingy so you can do something-or-other (losing my tech cred here).
Mix fun with learning…
Ever get tired of your children’s incessant ‘why..?” questions? Instead of tearing your hair out, why not ask them to research the answers themselves using technology?
Better yet, turn the tables completely and ask them a question that they need to find answers to. An ideal question is engaging and thought-provoking, for example, “What would happen to the world if all cockroaches were to suddenly disappear tomorrow?” For the ultimate revenge, regurgitate some of the clangers they have previously foisted upon you, like “Why is the sky?” and “Where do babies come from?” (On second thoughts, maybe not).
Through this type of exercise, kids will sharpen their research and critical evaluation skills – and if you ask a clever enough question, it will also keep them busy for longer (bwahahaha)
Positive learning opportunities through the screen are endless. Among these, kids can:
- Absorb random factoids through TV documentaries and quiz shows.
- Learn a language using a variety of child-appropriate apps such as Gus on the Go (Hot tip: Get them to consolidate this learning by watching a children’s program in that language)
- Learn how to play a musical instrument. This works better for more straightforward instruments such as the ukulele, and plenty of tutorials can be found on places such as YouTube.
- Engage in edutainment (education + entertainment) programs and apps. Many children’s TV programs incorporate learning into their content, and apps such as Reading Eggs are terrific for exercising literacy and numeracy skills in fun and engaging ways.
Social learning is also important…
Learning communication skills, empathy and prosocial behaviour is just as important, if not more so, than learning your ABCs and 123s. Fortunately, most child-directed programs and games weave in lessons about the importance of kindness and respect. Even the most frivolous sitcoms can be ripe with teachable moments if you dig deeply enough. A simple yet effective way to promote reflection, critical thinking and empathy is to ask your child “What would you do in that character’s shoes?” For little gamers, you can ask them why they made certain decisions in the game, how these led to particular consequences and what they might do differently next time.
As is self learning…
Get them to write a blog or journal. This can be about anything, whether it be current top 40 songs, sports results or general musings about their day. This will not only hone their creativity and writing skills but also prompt self-reflection.
Technology doesn’t have to be consumed independently. On the contrary, it can provide opportunities for family bonding. At a minimum, this could entail just showing up. Children appreciate their parents simply being there and showing an interest in what they’re watching or doing. Research shows that your mere presence is enough to inspire your children to pay closer attention to the lessons within a show, therefore fostering better learning.
We get that it can sometimes be really difficult to feign interest in the programs they like, especially if you have younger children. So why not make a game of it with some bingo cards? Pinterest is a rich resource for amusing printables, with anything from Sesame Street to Peppa Pig Bingo.
Apps and games that incorporate exercise and outdoor activities…
There are numerous apps out there that encourage children to go outdoors. For example, Wildtime has goofy game ideas designed for outside fun, such as throwing a dinner party for birds or collecting smells.
At times when outdoor play is not safe or feasible, you can still encourage your kids to play games that require physical activity. Some gaming consoles (e.g. Wii) have dancing and sporting competitions that will get the kids moving while they play.
So there you go mums and dads. Enjoy using these tech gizmos to bond and learn with your kiddies. Alternatively, if you’re busy cooking, meeting work deadlines (or re-reading an old Danielle Steel novel), don’t feel guilty employing your friendly electronic babysitters. You deserve a break too. Cheers!