What parents MUST understand about screen time to be better prepared for the digital world
The digital world feels like it’s constantly encroaching around us. Whether it’s social media or video games you can never get “those dang kids” away from their tech. Now, with online schooling and virtual hangouts becoming more common due to COVID-19, more parents are worried that children and teens will be getting even more screen time than ever before. There seems to be this constant stigma that “more tech time = bad”. However, a technological based world is the direction we’re heading in, and here’s why that’s not always such a bad thing.
Technology is what connects us the most
One of the major points I see people make when it comes to spending a lot of time behind a screen is the fear that they’ll never make friends or socialize. This fear stems from a variety of things, most notably the horror stories we hear from the news about “online addiction”, and the “nerd/geek” outcast stereotype we’ve grown up with. If your child is frequently online, that doesn’t inherently mean they’re being antisocial.
Since the 1950s, “nerds” and “geeks” were originally seen as outcasts because they didn’t have many others who connected with their interests. Technology and video games weren’t seen as “cool” because they weren’t quite commonplace yet. As time has gone on and the internet has become accessible to nearly everyone around the globe, access to video games and anime and the like are easier. Thanks to the internet, “Nerd culture” has become integrated into our society because of individuals realizing that there are tons of others just like them all across the world. Nowadays, Nerds dominate the online world! Most people identify as some type of nerd, whether it’s a science nerd, a star wars nerd, an art nerd, or something else.
Before online interconnectedness, we had to make friends with who we had around us, like our neighbours or our classmates, whether we liked them or not. But now, we’re able to instantly connect with people across the globe who have similar interests and ideals! The same can be said for a lot of things that we’d grown accustomed to. Remember cable TV? We used to only have a handful of channels to choose from, and we’d only be able to get our news through the paper or word of mouth. Now, we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want without repetitive commercial breaks, and we can get the news through multiple different websites and social media, all the while being perfectly curated for us!
While face to face interaction is important, heavily limiting a child’s access to their technology in favour of solely interacting with the people around them won’t help. More likely than not, a large portion of their friends are on social media. Heavily limiting their technology would be equivalent to a parent not allowing a child to speak with their best friend at school.
Understanding the younger generation’s way of communication
Chances are that if your child constantly wants to escape to a screen, especially if they’re a pre-teen or teen, they’re not as comfortable sharing their interests with those around them. Today, many kids are more extroverted and comfortable online than they are in person because they were born with technology, which is a huge social shift for a single generation.
Constantly saying that “screen time is bad” or “they need to spend less time on that device”, they may feel misunderstood or shut out. Limiting their screen time to solely healthy or educational activities won’t help either -- they’ll just want to go on other applications more! (and trust me, they’ll figure out how. Especially if you’re not well versed with tech.)
While your children and youth are most likely far more comfortable online than you are, refusing to learn and seeing it as outright bad is part of the issue. More likely than not, concerned parents may be afraid of the online world because they didn't grow up with it and therefore don't completely understand it. But being afraid of the internet and technology doesn’t solve the problem -- it’s being properly informed that will help you make better parenting decisions!
Good screen time vs bad screen time
Learning the difference between good screen time and bad screen time. Good screen time, undoubtedly, is online schooling or education. However, that doesn’t make everything non-educational “bad”. The internet isn’t only for education -- it’s for entertainment too! Learn what your kids are interested in and research what those interests are all about. You may even find that you connect with them as well!
Not all video games are violent or time wasters -- some encourage creativity, and a sense of adventure. Many of our students dream of becoming animators, game artists or illustrators, inspired by the entertainment they choose to watch. Social media platforms like Discord provide positive online communities for teens to hang out and connect around common areas of interest, like drawing or varying fandoms.
Knowing how to separate the good from the bad is crucial when deciding how your child spends their time online. Especially in this day and age, online knowledge is crucial, and sheltering your children from it may cause more harm than good. If kids are all learning online these days, why not try some online classes yourself? It sure beats those old days of commuting or acting as a chauffeur to your kids' extra curricular activities.
Is screen time really bad for kids?
All in all, it comes down to the age of your child. But overall, no. Generally, the research related to screen time and cognitive development mostly affect children under 5. According to KidsHealth Medical Experts, “Preschoolers ages 2 to 5 should have no more than 1 hour of screen time each day.” They also state that an exception to that is video chatting with relatives or family friends, “which is considered quality time interacting with others.”
If your child is around the ages 6-12, while screen time shouldn’t affect cognitive growth, it should still be monitored fairly closely because they are still fairly young and impressionable -- what they intake will set their core values in the future. But as they age, the reigns on their technological intake can be loosened more and more. However, once your child hits their teenage years, those reigns shouldn’t be so tight. If your child is getting good grades, is responsible, and has no behavioural issues, you shouldn’t need to limit their tech use.
I had a 14 year old student once who’d told me that her parents had a child safety lock on her iPad. That way, when she’d used it for over 2 hours, it would automatically lock or shut down. It would also completely block the use of certain apps, including Instagram, Twitter, and Discord. However, she’d also told me that she learned how to bypass the lock, bringing me back to my initial point of educating over completely sheltering. If kids are restricted not to do something that they really want to do, more likely than not, they’ll learn how to bypass what you do anyway.
For me, I never had much interest in the internet until I was around the age of 10 because I didn’t have complete access to it. I got my first laptop when I was ten, and I got my first phone when I was fourteen. You could say I was “fear mongered” away from the internet -- constantly being told the horror stories of who was on the internet and who I’d find. I was never an extremely bold child either, so I never tried to look in places I wasn’t supposed to either. However, as I’d gotten older and smarter about how I interacted online, it became a primary source of communication between myself and my friends, whether I knew them in real life or online. Many of my friends who are quite shy and introverted in real life are quite exuberant and loud over text, and it’s nice to see a piece of the real them when they don’t have to worry about social anxieties.
No matter the age of your child, however, screen time that’s educational isn’t the only type that’s good for them. While educational apps are, well, educational, they can get extremely boring and repetitive over time. Common Sense Media says to think of the “four C’s”; things that can challenge your child’s thinking, let them get creative, allow them to connect to others and put everything into a greater context are still enriching to their growth as an individual. Because of the internet, we’re able to connect with others on a global scale. Learning to engage with all different kinds of people with a plethora of experiences allows them to become an open-minded and thoughtful person.
How to prepare for the (inevitable) digital future
Screen time is inevitable, especially in this day and age. Most entertainment is online or on a screen, schooling has become integrated with the online world, and many occupations require the usage of technology, which allows people to work remotely from anywhere, increasing opportunities!. Whether we like it or not, digital is the future! Instead of running from it, we want to educate and harness the power of tech for a more collaborative and creative future.
So what can you do? Here's a few actions you can take now to ensure healthy online habits in the future:
Educate yourself on the pros and cons of screen time to fully understand the risks and rewards.
Know the difference between good screen time and bad screen time. Clicker games or gacha games could be considered bad screen time, as nothing beneficial may come from them. However, interacting with friends or supportive communities online could be considered good screen time!
Plan active / outdoor breaks (and blinking!). For instance, grow into a routine of looking away from the screen for 30 seconds every 10 minutes.
Agree on a day to "disconnect" and go for a hike, do some baking, go on a nature walk, or enjoy a board game as a family.
Develop a routine of correcting their posture and standing up to stretch every 20 minutes. Sitting and staring at a screen for extremely long periods of time can not only degrade your vision, but can ruin your posture as well!
Embrace internet culture! There are a lot of fun and fascinating things about internet culture, like instant research, fact checking, and multiple forms of entertainment that are curated for you, such as music, news, and shows!
Overall, the best way to be prepared is by understanding how technology works and teaching them how to safely peruse through the internet. Yes, there are dangerous things about the internet (just like there are dangers on the streets), but telling them to avoid the internet altogether will only make them want to explore it more. More likely than not, all their friends are on it, whether their friends are in real life or online. So, whether we like it or not, they’ll most likely find ways to peruse through the web on their own. That can lead to a lot of dangerous situations that could be easily avoided if they were made aware of them from the start. It’s better to educate ourselves, and then educate them about how to be safe online while still having fun.
Additional reading about screen time and how it impacts children’s health: