How Some Screen Time Can Help, Not Harm Your Child
Although very convenient, “the digital babysitter” often causes alarm bells to go off in parents’ heads. It’s not uncommon to see parents give their smartphones and tablets to children to keep them quiet and busy. The same parents may guiltily worry about the harm screen time does to the child. There are is a school of thought that screen time can help, not harm your child.
Many adults look at their mobile screen about 50 times per day, “because it’s necessary.” When their kids spend time on their mobiles or tablets, adults worry how it is harming the child. Many parents fear the effect screen time has on their children. What about the opposite? What about the positive effect of screen time? Can screen time help, not harm your child?
Let’s have a look at how some screen time can help your child.
How Much Screen Time?
How much screen time is safe and when does a child spend too much time on digital platforms?
According to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), screen time for kids younger than six years old should be limited to 1 hour per day. Broken down further, they recommend:
- No screen time for 18 months old kids and younger. The exception is video chatting because it’s like interacting with somebody in the room.
- Up to 2 years old, the limited screen time should focus on what the child can understand.
- For children aged two years to five years old screen time shouldn’t exceed a daily limit of one hour.
Set limits for older children to how much time they may spend watching TV, playing games and using other digital devices. A good practice is to establish media free zones in the house, for example, the dinner table and bedrooms. Limit screen time during family outings.
Too much screen time intervenes with sleep, growth, and physical activities.
Studies have also shown more than 2 hours of screen time per day can be harmful to the child. According to The Guardian, only 5% of U.S. children get enough sleep, exercise enough, and keep the screen time within recommended boundaries.
Should parents prohibit children from using digital devices and watching TV except for homework assignments?
What if the amount of time spent on digital platforms is not the actual problem?
Is Screen Time the True Culprit?
A study from Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University showed that screen time on its own is not the problem. Researchers came to this conclusion after interviewing 20,000 parents about screen time usage of their children aged two-to-five years old.
If the screen time itself is not the culprit, then what is?
Sometimes the parent is the culprit.
- If parents are on their smartphone while supposedly spending time with the child, then that is the example they are presenting to the child. Indirectly they are showing the child that screen time takes precedence over face-to-face time with loved ones. Their actions are conveying the message that it’s okay to spend so much time on digital technology.
- If parents, see screen time as a “digital babysitter” then they lose out on exciting times and fun with their kids. Yes, it is a convenient tool to keep the children busy while finishing chores. The moment the parents, however, actively participate with the child using technology, it becomes a constructive and fun way to spend time with the kids.
How children use technological devices have a greater impact than the amount of screen time. A survey among four-to-eleven-year old children at the University of Michigan Center of Human Growth and Development measured screen addiction. The survey concluded that the way screen time affected other areas of a child’s life was important. One sign of addiction was to what extent the child was emotionally attached to the specific game or program. Was the attachment so great that it replaced all other activities and spending time with family and friends? Did they have negative emotional reactions if not allowed to continue playing or watching?
How Screen Time Helps Children
During a TED Talk, Sarah De Witt claimed three main benefits of screen time for kids. She showed the opposite of what parents commonly fear with screen time was true.
Screen Time Gets Your Child Moving
Many parents fear that screen time interferes with children being active and prevents them from playing outside.
Wild Kratts, children’s U.S. TV Show together with PBS Kids created a virtual game with bats. When the children moved their arms copying the movement of bats they saw themselves as bats on the screen.
The experiment showed that when the game was switched off, the children continued to play the game actively. They continued pretending to be bats, and they remembered facts about the bats they had learned during the game.
The bat game experiment encouraged embodied learning. In other words, the game inspired the children to recreate in the real world what they virtually experienced on the screen during the game.
Screen Time a Learning Experience for Children
Parents fear the variety of programs, games, and shows available for kids will distract them to such an extent that they discard education.
During an experiment with 80 nursery school children, the opposite was proven. The children played Curious George games that focused on math. Afterward, the researchers tested the children with a standardized math test.
With in-depth data analysis, the test scores were accurately predicted, even though Curious George games weren’t created for academic assessment.
The experiment showed that screen time activities could teach children without being exposed to test anxiety in classrooms. By choosing wisely, games and activities could educate the child while they are having fun.
By asking a question related to what they are watching or playing, you as a parent accomplish several things.
- It’s a way to engage with the child.
- The informal question and answer session educates the child.
- It helps the child to recall what they’ve learned.
- It shows you what stood out for your child, what they deemed important and their level of understanding.
- It’s a way to discuss sensitive issues safely.
- It’s also a way to teach the child values and belief systems.
Use Screen Time to Bond with Children
Probably one of the greatest fears parents have is not bonding and having a relationship with their child. Many fear that screen time will contribute to the breaking up of relationships instead of improving relationships with their children.
Parents don’t even have to participate to bond with children during screen time actively. Sarah De Witt’s advice is “Just show up. Sit down next to your child.”
Your presence is enough to tell the child you care enough to spend time with them. It also inspires them to watch more attentively because your presence shows them that you support their actions. The child develops an understanding of what kind of programs you as a parent will approve of. Later, they will instinctively know what not to watch even when you’re not around.
When conversing on the game or show the child watched, you’re spending time with your children, they are having fun, and it creates precious moments you share. Sometimes children have difficulty expressing themselves. Their reaction to the character in the story may help them understand their own emotions. It is also a tool to teach them how to act and react in certain situations, and the repercussions of certain actions.
Screen time will reveal your child’s interests. Interests you as a parent can help them explore away from digital technology. Going to the library to read more about the topic becomes an adventure and nurtures the love to read in the child. Arts and crafts can inspire creativity. Prompt the child to draw, paint, or build what they saw on screen.
Although too much screen time could be bad for your child’s health and development, the quality of the screen time is possibly more important. You as a parent can control what they watch and play and use it to the benefit of the child.
In short, how screen time helps, not harms your child is determined by you as the parent. Instead of using the screen time just as a “digital babysitter,” spend time with the child during screen time. Use what they watch or play to educate them, to teach them life lessons, and to help them understand their own emotions and growth.
Screen time is a bonding time for parents and children. You don’t have to do anything, simply being there is enough for the child to know you care and approve.
Do you agree that some screen time can help, not harm your child? How does screen time benefit your children? How do you use it to bond with your child and to teach them practical life lessons?