Parenting / 11 April, 2023 / Ellie Thompson
Screen time is prone to having a bad rep in the world of parenting, but there are genuine benefits to screen time – in moderation. Learning to prioritise the quality and quantity of screen time can be tricky, but we’ve done some research to bring you some handy tips that can help.
A study by the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University conducted in partnership with Cardiff University and Cambridge University, found that moderate levels of screen time can benefit children’s wellbeing and mental health.
Experts recommend that children under five years of age should spend less than an hour a day using screens, while kids aged five to 17 should limit their daily screen time to two hours. Sonia Livingstone points out that “…rather than worrying about the catch-all notion of ‘screen time,’ it might be better to focus on whether, when and why particular digital activities help or harm individual children.”
According to The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, there are four main categories of screen time. And you’ve guessed it, it’s all about finding the right balance between each digital activity and making sure all online activity is age-appropriate.
According to child development expert Dr. Jacqueline Harding, screen time should always be:
Try to resist treating the internet as a solo activity and get involved with what they’re up to online. Do your research and download high-quality programmes and apps. If you’ve got younger kids, use the tablet together, co-view, co-play and look for fun ways to interact with online content.
And for the parents of older kids, it’s time to have a conversation about what’s going on online. Be aware of what they’re doing and discuss the apps they’re using.
Mother of three and author of Raising a Screen-Smart Kid: Embrace the Good and Avoid the Bad in the Digital Age Julianna Miner compares screen time to nutrition. “… There’s like digital broccoli and digital ice cream… It really depends on what the child is using the screens for. For example, reading on an e-reader is definitely digital broccoli. And while you don’t want your kid to overdo it on broccoli because they’re going to have an upset stomach, the amount of broccoli that you’re going to allow them to eat every day is going to be far greater than the junk food, right?”
Screen time and digital technology is a great way for kids to learn new skills. When used strategically in moderation, evidence suggests that screen time can help develop problem-solving, cognitive, creative, social and communication skills.
Internet Matters reports that “Interacting with computers improves both visual intelligence and hand-eye coordination.”
Video games and apps can inspire learning and enhance critical thinking skills without kids even realising that they’re learning.
In spite of what you may think, screen time can actually benefit your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing, and help develop important social skills. According to Internet Matters, “technology takes away physical barriers to social connections, which is important for children who find it hard to make friends or have special interests or special needs.”
According to Miner, gaming can be a really meaningful social outlet. “They’re connecting with friends and community and interacting in many of the same ways they would in person. But they’re doing it like living room to living room, as opposed to in the backyard or at the park. And they still have all those needs to express, like feeling rambunctious and powerful and getting their aggression out.”
Screen time can be a great learning tool for little ones, so it’s OK to embrace the digital world at an early age. There are lots of educational apps and games that can help prepare your child for starting school. And access to a tablet or a laptop is a must for kids from year one onwards, with websites such as Top Marks and Phonics Play being widely recommended by teachers.
Screen time exposes kids to a variety of unique experiences that can promote creativity. Digital art, photography and music apps or learning how to code a game are great examples of how screen time encourages creativity and foster imagination.
Screen time isn’t just about Netflix, YouTube and Disney, oh no! Screen time gives kids the chance to embrace the wonderful world of narrative in the form of e-books and audiobooks, with an endless supply of literature. And that’s not all. Email, notes, Word and Google Docs are all great examples of how screen time can promote literacy and communication skills.
Setting limits is really important. We all know what it’s like to spend hours on end glued to a device. Children find screen time equally addictive. Create a good balance between online and offline and explain the benefits of both. It’s all about finding balancing screen time with other activities to benefit your child’s learning and development.
Implementing limits and boundaries can be challenging for parents and children. It’s important that your child understands why the restrictions are in place or they may interpret the limitation as a punishment. Internet Matters have created some fantastic resources with the help of Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos to guide parents in teaching children how to stay safe online.