Digital Smarts - Kids and Screen Time: How Not to Feel Guilty

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If you are parent in the Digital Age, you’ve probably heard a lot about guidelines on screen time. Many parents look to those screen time guidelines, such as the ones from the American Academy of Pediatricians, for the daily maximum time acceptable for your children to be in front of a screen. But let’s face it, and even research backs this up, there are different kinds of screen time and they are not all equal. Lots of factors come into play when it comes to media – is it educational, are parents and kids watching or playing something together and talking about it, or is it Facetime session with the grandparents? Maybe kids are watching drawing tutorial on YouTube or someone reading a book out loud, which is very different than hours of cartoons. Context matters.


Central to those guidelines, also, has always been the premise that parents know their child best and should use their discretion. You undoubtedly already have some ideas about when to stretch screen time allowance when your kids are watching something of high interest to them. That is part of recognizing that all media experiences are not equal, and that quality certainly trumps quantity.


Kids are also incredibly social beings, and during this period of social separation, that void is also being filled by technology connections. Kids may be watching more Netflix and playing more video games, but they are also video chatting more, playing games with friends online, and even having virtual play dates. While these online experiences will never replace person-to-person connections, using tech to keep kids in touch with peers and family is especially important in these times of social distancing.


So where does that leave you?

  • Don’t beat yourself up if your kids have upped their screen time. We are in unprecedented times. At this point, screen time is their only way to connect with the outside world.
  • Try to find good content. Find reviews of all kinds of media for kids on sites like Common Sense Media and even Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Keep it creative. Make sure they are not just passively using technology all day. Let them use your phone to take pictures and videos and figure out all the special features like slow motion, 360 views and whatever else is available to them. Ask them to make a video diary of their day or that of the family pet. Record dance videos, magic tricks, or short skits and send them off to grandparents to cheer them up. Let them play with some of the free creative apps that are available on your phone or computer like Comic Life for making comic books or drawing apps for all ages.
  • Keep connected. Use the technology to connect to other people and mix it up. Everything does not have to be a straight up conversation or video chat. Have a joke day where everyone has to offer a favorite joke, a picture they have drawn, or a small video they have made.
  • Keep talking. One of the biggest issues experts have with technology for children is that watching passively does help with building language skills the way interpersonal communication does. So when kids are watching, try to join them when you can and then talk about what they are seeing, reading or playing. Ask about what issues or ideas came up in a story, inquire what characters they liked or didn’t like and why, and listen when they tell you about some great move they made in a game to get to the next level.
  • Get out and keep it balanced. If you are somewhere they can get outside, try to get out every day even it is just for a walk. Try to do things that don’t involve screens, even if it is just organizing their closets or reading a book.