I have always been very conscious of screen time. My daughter’s device times is probably around 3 hours a week alone and about 1 hour supported. She keeps her Spanish practiced on an app, watches (with apps we put the phone on flight mode) Super Simple Espanol on youtube (then she can not have the phone close to her body). She also occasionally plays an English language game, we love to watch youtube video’s together of kids dancing but I can see her desire for a phone growing and I realise that this is something I need to educate myself on before we get into bad habits. I know many people are already in the bad habits and would like guidance, so I reached out to Anya Kamenetz is the author of The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life
Hi Anya, Welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum (or dad) should have to do everything herself, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that! We love that you have deep-dived into Screen Time issues and shared this to support others.
Can you explain what role screens play in an average western child’s life today?
Our children’s first engaging counter with a screen is likely to be a video chat or simply being filmed with a smartphone on the first day of life. As our children grow up the digital devices surrounding us are an essential link to information, connection with others, creativity and learning as well as entertainment. But if not put in their proper place, and without guidance and mentorship, mindfulness and healthy habits, they usurp attention and sap essential family connections. Overuse of tech does not CAUSE, but co-occurs with a long list of contemporary childhood ills — obesity, depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism spectrum to name a few so it’s always worth taking a look at tech habits if you are facing a parenting challenge of any kind.
There is a lot into today’s media about the negative experience of screen time. How accessible to our children is content that is highly violent, sexual and otherwise disturbing? What can we do about it?
Inappropriate content is easier than ever to find. Coming across it in an odd moment is not going to ruin your child’s life although it may lead to an awkward conversation. What we should be concerned about is prolonged solo use of media which allows kids to find disturbing content in the first place.
Many people are now seeing that screens can not only dominate but also separate families. What can families who feel they have already reached this point do?
This is a great question. Parents have to set the tone. Declare family screen free times and stick to them. A change of venue can sometimes make it easier to turn over a new leaf and make it feel fun–not punitive. Go swimming together, or hiking or to an amusement park or a vacation spot where there’s no reception, or stay home and do anything messy and immersive that doesn’t make it easy to use tech — bubbles, baking, mud pies, jumping in fall leaves, a home improvement project. Even a family trip to the movies as long as no one pulls out their phone!
As you say “Loving video games is not a crime, but some children need help to find a healthy pattern of use”. Can you share a framework for this?
Children have ideally 14 waking hours in a day. They need to go to school, do homework, eat three meals, spend time with family and friends, move their bodies and go outside. Video games need to fit in behind those other must-dos and they need to be turned off an hour before bedtime. If you want to allow a “binge” every once in a while–say a slumber party on a weekend– make sure it’s balanced out and that limits are honored the rest of the time. By the way, it’s good for them to play with friends (or you!) rather than all alone.
Screen time can add value can you give us examples of where screen time can be positive for children and families?
There are so many examples. Of course, you can think about whiz-kid coders (Mark Zuckerberg?), filmmakers and creative influencers and artists in all media who got their start online (remember Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube at 13?) What do they have in common? Creative, not just consumptive uses of media.
I would also point you to the Parkland teenagers and Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists using social media skillfully for social good. There is research indicating that young people who are more active on social media are also more likely to be politically engaged both online and offline, and up to a point, young people who spend more time on social media also have more friends and stronger friendships in real life.
Is there anything else you want to share with families that want to upgrade their children’s screen time?
My bottom line advice is to share screen time with your kids when possible–and also share more time without it, you’ll be happy you did both.