Screens: Necessary Evil or Positive Resource?

 

Screen time.

It can cause a lot of parental angst.

How much is too much? Is that game appropriate? How on earth do I get that device back without causing a meltdown?

We live in a technological age and screens have become a necessary part of our lives. Some children know how to use an iPad before they can even put together sentences and we can be guilty of modelling our own dependence on the ever-pinging device in our pockets.

Much debate and research has gone into the issue of the impact of screens on our children. From the suggestion that screen time is actually good for our kids, to the other end of the spectrum – the often quoted reality that many Silicon Valley executives (including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs) enforced strict screen time guidelines at home, realising early on the potentially harmful effects.

It is important to note that there have been concerning outcomes highlighted for teens, with a recent study by Jean Twenge concluding that teens who spent more time on social media and smartphones were more likely to report mental health issues (with a link to suicide risk and depression) than those who spent the majority of their time on non-screen related activities (specifically social, physical, study and religious).

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There has also been emerging research into the growing reality of parental distraction as connected with smartphone use – leading to a state of ‘continuous partial attention’ towards our kids. This mental state has the potential to lead to the misreading of child emotional cues, a display of anger or irritation when we are interrupted and a concerning increase in the number of reported injuries.

‘Okay, we get it’, you might be thinking, ‘but screens are a reality that we can’t exactly escape. So what should we do?’

It isn’t all bad news.

In a TED talk in April 2017, Sarah DeWitt (former preschool teacher and media researcher, now responsible for the development of the award-winning PBS KIDS website) challenged some myths about the common fears parents have in relation to screen time. She urged parents to see screens as a potential – for education, connection and embodied learning. From the reality that some applications can predict skills with similar (or greater) levels of accuracy as standardised testing, to the harnessing of interactive technology to allow kids to mimic actions and language – there is a world of wonder that can be appreciated and utilised to everyone’s advantage.

Actually, one of the most important factors isn’t necessarily whether the game is educational enough but whether, as parents, we take the time to talk with our kids about what they are playing, engage in their virtual world and use it to open up our relationship with them.

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Author of Screen Time, journalist Lisa Guernsey has created a helpful checklist which she calls ‘the three C’s’, which encourages parents to consider Content, Context and the individual Child in assessing whether the screen time is desirable and appropriate. You can take a quick quiz to see whether you are on track with yours.

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Ultimately, screens are here to stay and it is up to us whether we use them as a positive force or a means of distraction. Let’s work together to make devices a tool for connecting with our kids, furthering their education and following the leads of curiosity for extending themselves.

We are planning on putting together a list of the best educational apps as a resource for you. Let us know if you have any great (free, if possible) ones to recommend!


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