Not All Screen Time is Junk Food
From what I have read, screen time is dangerous. According to articles from parents groups, news outlets, and pseudo experts parents need to limit children’s screen time and be wary whenever they have a device in their hands. These articles highlight the numerous dangers of screen time from effects on social development to physical issues and online addiction.
For many parents, they read these articles and see their children on an iPad or a smartphone and they worry. They harken back to their childhoods, which were free from ubiquitous technology, and they conclude their children are being denied critical developmental experiences. They see our schools using devices for learning and they become more concerned. Many parents believe the sum total of time on devices is a major impediment to the children growing up happy and healthy.
In a way, these concerns are valid as excessive screen time, and the wrong type of screen time, can cause many of these problems. However, screen time is central part of modern children’s daily lives.
Screen Time is Central to Children’s Lives
Screen time is a key element of the hyper connected world children live in today. Their access to information, entertainment, communication, and now learning is tied more and more to screen time. They need devices to fully experience modern childhood, for better or worse.
The best analogy is that for modern children screen time holds the same level of importance to them as food and water. Just as with food, screen time has incredible value to children, but not all screen time is equal and it needs to be guided by parents.
The Value of Screen Time
Children in this hyper connected world must be able to navigate digital tools, use online information, and communicate effectively using multiple media. They must have the experience of using devices for multiple purposes if they are going to be productive after they leave school. They need to quickly and accurately find and use information on the Internet. Further, must develop skills in communication, articulation, and argumentation using online platforms and social media. In short, children have to become productive and effective Digital Citizens.
Common Sense Media has a number resources and guides on Digital Citizenship and screen time for parents.
Just as food must be eaten regularly to take in the benefits, Digital Citizenship skills are developed through regular practice and experience on a screen. Screen time should not be seen as a deterrent to childhood. There is tangible social, emotional, and academic value with children spending time on devices both at home and at school similar to the nutritional value of high quality food.
Not all Screen Time is Equal
As we know, not all food is high quality. Some food is nutritious, meeting our every day needs. Other food is best suited for growth, recovery, and improved health. And there is junk food, which we all know and love because it appeals to our tastes and appetites, but lacks in dietary value. The key with children’s eating is heavy doses of nutritious food, enough health food to meet their needs, and appropriate amounts (and limits) of junk food. And of course, moderating our food intake and not eating to excess is equally as important.
The same holds true for screen time. There are valuable uses of screen time such as creative activities or collaborative work. Screen time can be used for skill development or information access to meet learning needs. And, as with eating, there is the junk food of games and videos. Like food, screen time in each of these areas should be varied. More time should be spent in creative practices than on video games, but all types of screen time have value.
Bronwyn Joy’s Blog, Journeys of the Fabulist, has a detailed explanation of these levels and further reading for parents where she equates screen time to the classic food pyramid.
Similar to food intake that should be moderated, screen time must be moderated for children. It is a parental responsibility to govern the amount of time children spend on their devices and what they are doing on them.
Parental Involvement with Screen Time
Rarely would a parent leave their children alone in fully stocked kitchen and tell them to feed themselves. Parents would worry about food choice, over eating, and cuts and burns. Yet, this is the approach parents often take with screen time. They allow their children to sit alone on their devices without supervision or limits.
Like a well-rounded diet, screen time requires parental guidance. Parents should establish guidelines for when devices are being used and how they are used. They should establish limits on the junk food and make sure children spend time doing creative activities, just like eating their vegetables.
However, this cannot be done at without active involvement. Studies have shown that healthy eating habits come when parents eat with their children. This teaches children food choice, pacing, and moderation as well as establishing parental presence in their dietary choices. The same is true for devices. Parents need to model good behavior with their own devices. They need to be involved in the children’s online activities by using the same apps and games. And they should interact with their children using their devices and social media accounts.
By showing presence in screen time activities, children will be less prone to the dangers of device use and will make better choices as they will feel their parents are supervising them at all times.
I work as an Educational Technology consultant at International EdTech committed to helping schools use technology successfully. I frequently present at conferences on Educational Leadership, Learning Technology, IT, and Data Systems. I am also a a published author focusing on Educational Technology, International Education, and Leadership.