The Modern Parent’s Guide To Screen Time For Kids

WiFi enabled tablet in persons handsNobody can deny that IT, interactive and Smart devices are going to play a huge part in our children’s lives, and many people have opinions on how the amount of screen time, that is time children spend using VDUs, smart phones, laptops and tablets is going to affect educational and physical development.

For generations there have been adults who are prepared to wax nonsensical about how whichever latest trend or technological development will slow the mind or adversely affect the physical development of the children and adults who are exposed to it. Not surprisingly the latest generation of nay-sayers have set their sights on touchscreens, voice control, and home automation.

Common Myths About Too Much TV

Because children spend so much time in their rooms instead of in the great outdoors children are going to grow up weak and enfeebled, unable to lift even a pen to write their own names. Texting means that they will lose their ability to spell or employ grammar, having only ever used ‘text speak’ in all their communications. And of course sitting too close will ruin your eyesight and looking at screens for too long will turn your eyes square too.

Most of us who were TV obsessed kids, early adopter home computer users and social media addicts have been rolling their eyes at this earnest, yet misguided advice and prejudice for years. And now we’re being proven right.

Children need to have access to computers and technology. It’s not going away and if you have kids and you try to limit the amount of time they spend using it, or dictate what they can do with it you’re putting them at a disadvantage compared to their classmates. If a child doesn’t know how to type in the 21st century, doesn’t know how to use google effectively (that is, not relying solely on what they find on the top of page one, but drilling down and looking for reliable sources instead of fake news) then their education will suffer. It’s been a long time since Socrates eschewed the use of writing, relying on an incredible memory for his lessons instead. Children today can type faster than they can write with a pen and have the ability to edit on the fly, but if your child is a stranger to a keyboard, they’re at a disadvantage.

Being Familiar With The Media Means Much More Than Simply Surfing The Net

Recent surveys have found that those most likely to share “fake news” are going to be those in their mid-60s. People in this age range are less sophisticated when identifying false representation, propaganda, and disingenuous advertising. On the other hand, ‘screen obsessed’ kids view with disdain most traditional forms of advertising, choosing to follow influencers instead. Indeed, among the under 30s TV, print and broadcast radio are largely ignored in favour of Netflix, YouTube, podcasts and on-demand media sources.

But that’s not to say that you should just give your kids a tablet or laptop and let them get on with it unsupervised. We’ve seen that cyber-bullying can have an incredibly detrimental effect on vulnerable children, how they can be blackmailed or tricked into sharing inappropriate images of themselves, or getting into extremely volatile real life situations after having made contact with undesirables online. It throws up many dichotomies: under thirteens aren’t supposed to have a Facebook account, but most kids use it to keep in touch with their school friends, to collaborate on homework as well as arranging their social lives and sharing memes. Your children have a right to privacy, but you’re desperate to know who they’re speaking to, and what about. And if you let them play games which need premium upgrades, how far do you trust your children with your credit card details? You need to consider all of these and myriad online security issues which can only be guessed at.

Encourage The Right Kind Of Screen Time

So, instead of taking draconian action and insisting on ‘no screen time’ you need to instigate rules. Naturally these will be roundly flouted, but you’ll have made the effort and will have a leg to stand on when you start to have the rows about who did what.

Let your children have social media accounts, (OK, so Facebook etc have a policy that you need to be over thirteen, so by letting them go ahead you’re already making a hypocrite of yourself by insisting on rules, but we’ll brush over that for now..) but insist on being a friend/follower and ask them to let you know their password. OK so this a potential invasion of their privacy, but hey, it’s this or having to explain to their peers that “mum won’t let me have Facebook”.

Keep your main computer in an open room in the house and let the kids use that for their homework and online socialising. If you’ve decided to let them have tablets or smart phones of their own, apply rigorous child friendly settings. We all know kids are probably more adept at mastering the settings than their parents, but the rule is in place, and how you deal with transgressions is up to you as a parent.

Mind the games that your family download and keep your antivirus protection up to date. If you decide to buy add-ons for additional levels, skins or skills for your children to play with do it yourself and make sure that the details you input aren’t saved ‘for your convenience,’ making it possible to buy more without your knowledge.

It’s also been found that the frequency of light that tablets, phones and monitors give out is that of the morning, sending signals to the pineal gland that it’s time to wake up. So if your children are using devices before bed or when they should be getting their heads down their sleep cycle could be interrupted. It is possible on many devices to change the colour settings, but it would be a better idea to actually restrict the use of screens as part of the bedtime routine. Since sleep is so intrinsically related to concentration, behaviour and learning, making sure they get enough rest is doing them as much of a favour as letting them familiarise themselves with the latest technology.

Finally, play screen based activities together. Playing games with or against one another is a great way to integrate family time while also getting the buzz from using tech. You can team up on any number of games, not just shoot ‘em ups and cars stealing, but puzzles, adventure games, and quizzes let you team up and spend time together having fun without making a bogeyman out of screen time.

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