Reading research about children and screen time can make you nervous. There are multiple pitfalls to kids watching TV, using computers, tapping on phones and swiping their tablets all the time. How are our young kids going to navigate a world with screens in every room, hand or pocket?
What do researchers say?
There is a lot of research into the effects of screen time on children, and researchers have struck upon key ways in which interaction with technology can actually be really GOOD for kids.
Here are five ways to make screen time beneficial:
1. Play or Watch Together
Children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, are known to learn best from direct interaction with adults. It is essential to language and social development.
The effect of direct interaction is obvious when dealing with kids and screen time. When you watch a cartoon with your child, you help them process the story. When you play a game, you enjoy the discovery of gameplay or learn something new together.
In the modern endless stream of content, the days of waiting for the next program are over.
If your kid gets addicted to the world of cartoons and games, (gulp. guilty) every time you have to turn them off, a battle ensues. When you are watching and playing together, you are able to talk about the experience and switch their focus to enjoying the memory and the bond of common experience.
2. Find Enriching Content
Quality content is the secret to attaining the benefits kids can get from interaction with screen media. We need to be present with children’s media as often as possible, so we need content that is enjoyable for both kids and adults. Children’s literature, theater, music, animated movies and interactive games accomplish this feat of cross-generational appeal. Now, something like learning a language together for fun becomes possible wherever you are.
3. Manage Viewing Times
The Academy of American Pediatrics has clear and well-researched guidelines for how much time is healthy for kids at different ages. One hour a day of screen time is the limit for kids under 5. That includes time spent watching TV at daycare or school. If you’re interacting together often and setting guidelines about time spent watching, like agreeing before a show that the device will be taken after the ending or setting timers, then the negative effects of screen time can be negated.
4. Use Alternatives for Quiet Time
We are all somewhat starved for downtime, unless you’ve won the lottery, most likely your head is spinning with tasks. Screens make the all-too-perfect remedy, quieting children while we do our adult stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of the negative influences of screen time are due to kids being left alone for too long. Try different activities in the times when you need quiet. Reading, playing with creative toys or physical activity are better alternatives to screen time if possible. If it’s not possible, which it often won’t be, then limiting the time is important.
5. Connect Screen Time to Physical and Creative Activity
You may have to be creative yourself to accomplish this, but it will pay off. One of the biggest drawbacks of screens being part of our lives is that they encourage inactivity.
How can you turn games on devices and TV shows into reasons to jump and run about? Here are a few ideas:
- When watching sports or a cartoon on TV, each score or character can have an activity, like five jumping jacks for points scored or run around the table when your character from the show arrives in the scene. (Unless you have downstairs neighbors!)
- Do a dance or exercise to get a turn on the device. Make each player do a ten second dance routine to get a turn on the tablet.
- Use the timer on your phone to make up races against time and obstacle courses.
- Use the excited periods coming down from screen time to do creative things for transition.
These are screen time strategies we use and we’re always looking for more. The screens are here and there’s no turning back now. We can use this situation to our advantage by engaging with kids whenever possible. We can set reasonable and healthy limits on screen time while balancing it with more creative and physical play.