Screen time doesn’t have just one meaning. Between tablets, smart phones, laptops, computers and gaming devices, screens are all around us. Not only are there devices galore available to us (and our kids), but there are a growing number of ways to use these screens – including games, apps, TV shows, movies, research and more! That said, not all screens are equal. When it comes to your child’s tech time, which screen time is the most valuable?
Your child’s age is a prime piece of the screen time puzzle. Why? The guidelines for recommended viewing time differ by age/stage. According to the Australian Government, Department of Health, children under age 2 should spend no time in front of screens. This means no TV, no video games, no educational games and no movies. Children 2 to 5 years should have screen limits, watching programs, playing games or using the Internet for no more than one hour per day. The guidelines also say that children between the ages of 5- and 12-years should have no more than two hours of overall screen time in a day.
With so many choices, which screen time options should your child steer clear of? Start by avoiding anything that isn’t designed, or meant, for young children. These may include TV shows, movies or games that have scary visual images, violence or adult content (such as sexual scenes, nudity, strong language or mature scenarios that kids can’t yet process or understand).
Okay, so you already knew that you want to exclude all of those ‘adultish’ programs. But, what else? Keep screen-based material that includes advertising out as well. Your little one hasn’t yet developed the ability to distinguish what is, and isn’t an ad. Children, especially school-aged ones, are easily influenced by advertisers and may believe in the messages that commercial content is sending. Why is this a bad thing? It may make your 7-year-old think that she absolutely, positively needs a product to make her popular or start her on the path to having a low self-image.
Not all screen time is mindless. Yes, watching a TV show may equal blank stares. But, some electronic-based activities can actually help your child to learn and develop. Understanding which ones have beneficial learning effects is essential to understanding the value of some types of screen time. Games, apps, and programs that can benefit your child include activities that:
Obviously, educational games and apps have a value that goes beyond those that are purely for entertainment. That said, if you don’t see the word ‘educational’ in the product description or the screen-time activity doesn’t specifically say it’s ‘for learning purposes’, it may still have value. How?
Remember those creativity-inspiring activities that we just discussed? Games and apps in this category may not always shout, “I’m educational”, but in reality are.
Also, keep in mind that surfing online (as long as it’s safe) can have value. Sure, simply searching favourite TV characters or watching shows online isn’t exactly beneficial for your child. But, research a science topic, compiling a biography of a historical figure or learning about another culture adds value to your child’s life.
Screens can bring the world to your child’s finger tips. With that in mind, understanding how to use technology safely and beneficially turns media use from a passive pursuit to an active adventure.