Is ‘Screen-time’ a big issue in your house? Does it seem like your kids are always plugging in or zoning out? Do you feel guilty that you have allowed them so much time and don’t know how to curb this increasing activity? A new way of thinking may help.
Our children are born into a digital world; a world which they are engaged with and fascinated by. However, many parents are concerned about the implications ‘screen-time’ has on their child’s health. Strictly locking-down on the amount of time can become the focal point of our efforts to control ‘the digital beast’; but there is more we need to consider when approaching healthy habits around technology.
Dr Kristy Goodwin, a leading Children’s Digital Wellness expert, and author of Raising Your Child in a Digital World, acknowledges this dilemma that parents face. She says, “Many parents suffer from ‘techno-guilt’ because most parents had analogue childhoods, yet they’re being forced to raise kids who are having digitalised childhoods.” She goes on to say, “Parents need to focus on what, where, when and how screens are being used, in addition to using time as a metric. Focusing on more than simply prescribing time limits, forces parents to carefully consider the impact of screens on their child’s health, learning and development.”
When our view of raising children today, is approached with a desire to replicate our own upbringing, we can fail to adapt and appreciate the potential of technology to be used in a positive way.
Dr Goodwin says, “Technology isn’t necessarily toxic or taboo. When it’s used in developmentally appropriate ways for healthy amounts of time, screens and gadgets can support children’s learning and development… Parents need to embrace technology. Banning, fearing or ignoring technology won’t serve our kids. We need to teach our kids the best ways to use technology, so that they’re not only prepared for a digital workforce, but they also have the essential technological skills required to thrive on-line. Kids need to learn healthy digital habits.”
A helpful way of approaching screen-time is by assessing the purpose for which the screen is being used. Traditionally, screen-time was either watching television or playing video games (vegging out); today there are many different functions for the screen, some of which enhance and stimulate communication, creativity and learning. To focus purely on ‘the time’ re-enforces our feelings of guilt, disregards the purpose of screen use; making it a point of conflict. There is a difference between 40 minutes of watching television on your own and 40 minutes creating a music video.
Also, screen-time needs to be measured in relation to how much time is spent doing other healthy things that support our child’s growth and development. Finding a balance is important. If the screen is taking away from time spent eating, sleeping, playing outside, physical activity and socialising, it suggests life is off-balance.
To help parents have a positive, intentional approach to technology, Dr Goodwin has 5 Healthy Habits that she recommends.
Basic Needs: Make sure that your child’s screen-time doesn’t interfere with their basic, developmental priorities. Children have seven basic, unchanging developmental needs: relationships/attachments, language, sleep, play, physical movement, nutrition and executive function skills. If developmentally appropriate and used in intentional ways, screens can support young children’s learning and development.
Boundaries: Kids need firm and consistent boundaries when it comes to screen-time. Parents need to establish and enforce boundaries around what children can watch/play/create on-line, where (I encourage families to establish tech-free zones such as bedrooms and meal areas), when (I encourage families to establish tech-free times such as 90 minutes before nap or sleep time and avoid rapid-fire input before school) and how screens can be used (we need to teach children healthy ergonomics when it comes to screen to ensure that it doesn’t impact on their muscular skeletal, visual and auditory development).
Balance: We need to balance kid’s screen-time and green-time. Being on-line can stimulate a child’s sensory system because there’s so much to process: sound effects, visual effects (like animations, video and colour). Time in nature can help to calm children down.
Be Mindful: We need to be mindful of our screen habits. Our kids are emulating our digital habits. Make sure you’re unplugging and having screen-free time each day
Buddy Up: overwhelming research tells us that screen-time in isolation can be detrimental for children, as their brains are wired for social interaction and connection. However, when screens are used with others( parents, siblings, friends, grandparents) there are benefits.
While there are many pitfalls and dangers that parents need to be wise to, there is also advantage in screen use. Instead of an untamed beast, it can harnessed and used for the benefit of our children and our families. We can lose the guilt, and choose to adopt this new way of doing life.
Image by: Amelia Wells