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‘What’s the appropriate amount of screen time that my child should get?’
This is one of the dominant questions that parents ask is in the online communities. I believe this is the nth week of being quarantined at home. So with limited options for outdoor activities for kids, most of the parents in America are using screen time to keep the kids engaged.
Before we dive into answering the question above, let me tell you this. I am a mom to two boys under the age of 10. As a parent, like you, I worry about screen time too.
Will it make my kids silent consumers?
Will they be engaged learners?
Are they being overloaded with instant gratification?
But I am at a loss now as to how to answer that question. Both my kids are elementary schoolers and they are accomplishing most of their daily school assignments online. That is technically all screen time. So what happens when your child (or let’s be honest, you as a parent need a break) wants to watch his favorite show, may be two episodes back-to-back? That’s screen time too.
Consider this that, screen time is not the culprit here. It’s what we do with our screen time.
So, what if we changed that above question to this:
How can I make screen time meaningful for my kids?
There’re strict guidelines of zero exposure to electronic screens to infants below the age of 2. For kids between ages 2 and 4, the recommendation is to keep it to an hour each day. While I believe we should abide by that, what I want to focus on in this article is how we can make screen time work in a relevant way for our children.
Not all screen time is deemed equal. What you chose to watch makes a big difference in the time spent in front of screens. Discuss with your children, make them part of the conversation, allow them to tell you what they like and prepare to have a conversation if you don’t agree with their choices. I have never met a parent who has always agreed with every choice their children made. A discussion about what to watch during screen time is no different. How you approach that conversation is a lesson in itself to teach your kids about ‘agreeing to disagree’, or ‘backing up your opinion with reasoning’.
These discussions need not be long and can happen in five minutes before your kids start to watch their shows. But sometimes these conversations can go on, especially when your child has a strong opinion about a show or game. This just means that you are tasing a kid who knows what she wants, but that’s a conversation for another day. To help with making these decisions, take time separately to sit down with your kid and make a list of approved shows or games and activities online that your child can do. This will lead to choosing the show easy when the time comes.
Whether or not your child is watching a show or playing a game, always make sure to have a conversation about it later. You do not need to sit next to your child to make his screen time meaningful for him. Screen time can be that respite that you need, whether you need a break or hop on an online meeting for work. Feel empowered by screen time.
Now, when you find the time, like over dinner ask your child about the show she watched. This is a well-known pedagogical technique called ‘retrieval-practice’ and is always used in the classrooms. In fact you use it as well, without really realizing it or knowing the term. Remember all the times you have asked your children how their day went at school or what they did at school. Recalling information forces us to pull our knowledge out and examine what we know. This enhances learning and helps us think critically.
Here are some questions as conversation starters. You can always level up or level down the complexity of your questions depending on the age of the children.
What happened in the story? What happened then?
Oh, why did Gekko feel excited? Can you remember a time when you felt that way?
Can you paint a picture about the show you just described to me?
What would you have done if you were Captain Barnacles?
Turn on your phone camera and ask your kids to give you a demo of what they built on minecraft.
Know that there are numerous ways you can build an intriguing discussion about screen time.
In the current crisis that we have been thrown into, a rapid adoption of technology has become critical for us to move forward as a society, whether it is for completing student assignments or keeping kids meaningfully engaged while parents grapple with working from home. Although I like to focus on what my kids are doing during their tech-time I am also concerned about them continuously staring at a screen. Balance is key here, and practice. Make it a habit with your children to take breaks before they go back to watching their show again. Encourage them to take a break of 20 secs and look at an object that is 20 feet away for 20 secs. This is becoming far more crucial now that our eyes are exposed to screens for longer durations.
Also, remember that there are tons of activities that kids can do with their screens. You might turn on a nice song on YouTube and dance to it, or you could be doing yoga while watching one of the yoga videos. These activities although involves a screen are great ways to add movement during screen time. There are many games available on the app store for both Apple and Android devices that can make screen time for your children interactive and encourage them to think critically.
If you are looking to add a creative tool to your kid’s digital playtime, download our story-writing app. Available on all iPads and available at a discount for a limited time.