If the COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that technology is not our enemy. Even though we hated the pandemic we thankfully had technology to help us get through those long, lonely days. Now life is pretty much back to normal and the worry is that kids are even more attached to their tech devices. So for those parents out there who grapple with themselves daily, debating if and when they can send their kids off for some screen time – we see you! It’s really hard to balance physical play with the convenience of screen time. So what as a parent do you need to be thinking about when it comes to the great screen time debate? And how can we as parents pivot this debate internally and begin to think about screen time differently?
The great screen time debate
The pros and cons
A quick Google search will tell you everything you need to know about the upside and downside of screen time. But for a quick refresh: It’s been proven that too much screen time can cause a bunch of physical, emotional and social issues. Starting with trouble sleeping. This is because the blue light that devices give off can mess up your normal sleep cycles and circadian rhythms. Children who spend too much time in front of a screen can also develop issues with communicating and learning words. This is because too much time in front of screens means less chance to talk to people face-to-face, where they can learn about facial emotions and emotional cues that help them learn language. We could go on.
But… we of course also know how beneficial screen time can be: Using developmentally appropriate educational movies and digital games can help support what kids are already learning in the classroom. In this way, screen time can enhance schooling in interesting ways. Believe it or not, online gaming also improves hand-eye coordination. For many kids, it can be hard to learn how to move their bodies. Having to use both the mind and the hands can sometimes cause problems. Screens can give adults a break, too. Parents could use small periods of screen time to make dinner, get some work done, or just have some time to themselves. Sometimes, it’s a much-needed break from everyday life that lets both the parent and the child slow down and refuel. Instead of letting kids zone out on YouTube, choose a video call with grandma or a teaching app instead.
So how else can you think about screen time?
As seen above there is lots to love and lots to hate about screens. Like it or not, if we want our kids to live in the modern world we need to make peace with screen time and find ways to think about it carefully. Usually you hear parents talking about moderation of time on screens. Limiting week-day screen time for example. But there is another important way to think about time on screens. While moderation of time is important, the measurements should not only be done in terms of how many hours kids spend watching screens and focus should really shift to what kind of content is consumed when on the screen. You’ve probably heard the term “garbage in, garbage out” used to describe how computers work. This is also true of how we consume technology. Even though it’s not a good idea to spend all day in front of a screen, it’s also important that the content we watch is of a high quality and models the behaviours we want our kids to be learning instead of the ones we don’t. When younger kids are involved, who are quickly affected by their environment and are at a crucial stage in their development, even more attention should be paid to making sure they are consuming good content. Not only should you as a parent make sure that the things your child watches are age appropriate, but also good for their minds, encouraging creativity, imagination and helping them be better connected human beings.
The bottom line
When used correctly, technology and digital media can help young children learn and grow in important ways. Of course as parents it’s important to encourage balance, mediate this way of learning, encourage other forms of play, education and in-person interaction. But we can also lean into technology and focus on the ‘what’ instead of the ‘when’. This can also become a conversation with your child which shifts the narrative as a family and ensures that kids are beginning to think about what they are taking in from the outside world, what consumes their energy, and how this interaction makes them feel. This is ultimately a life skill that they will take into all interactions and will help them self-regulate, moderate intake themselves and learn how to listen to their bodies and minds long into the future.