Finding and sticking to good screen choices for your child
Finding screen options that are ad free, coherent and educational is not easy.
For many children lockdown resulted in a mass retreat, like zombies, into a parallel tech world, with reports of some children spending hours on end watching YouTube, Tik Tok, or playing games like Fortnite. One five year old spent so much time online they developed an American accent.
Now, thanks to both a rainy summer and limited opportunities to get away, tearing children away from their screens is continuing to challenge parents everywhere. Our standards are constantly slipping as we frantically juggle everything only to realise our 5 year old has not in fact had a few minutes of downtime in front of CBeebies, but rather has been watching back to back YouTube slime videos for most of the morning.
Banning screens is a lovely idea in theory, but hard to sustain in our busy modern lives – only really effective when you’re enjoying an extended break in the Outer Hebrides ( without wifi).
When you’re at home, and distracted by the endless whirlygig of the everyday, your best bet is to track down a range of screen options (ideally ad free, coherent and educational) and set some boundaries on what, when, how much and how often.
Make it an interactive experience
One of the most important ways you can elevate screen time into something much more valuable for your child is to make it an interactive experience. According to Matthew Cruger, director of the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute, the magic ingredient you will need to for this is – yourselves, because ‘parents are the interactive element’.
Passive viewing of screens by young children doesn’t help to develop their all-important gross motor skills by getting them moving. Creating some form of interactivity through parent participation in the child’s screen time will benefit all the family. In fact there’s even a new term for this parental interaction – joint media engagement.
When you think about it, this makes perfect sense; partnering with your child and engaging with media has long been understood to create crucial building blocks to childhood development – both academically and emotionally. When we read a book to, and with, our child, this is one simple form of joint media engagement
Going to see a film, looking at a painting or installation in a gallery, or even flicking through a magazine is all enhanced by parental participation. So it’s less about what your child is watching that makes it good or bad, it’s more about being their learning partner alongside that consumption that will render this more or less valuable.
Now we know that having an interactive element is key, we’ve put together some tips on creating and keeping in place a good set of screen use boundaries.
Boundaries, rules and digital consumption
We asked Elaine Halligan, Director of The Parent Practice for her pointers on putting in place an attainable and healthy balance on your child’s digital consumption.
“The horrifying statistic is that by the age of seven, the average British child born today will have spent an entire year of her life in front of a screen, and given lockdown and COVID, I am confident that statistic will worsen.
Here’s my tips towards ensuring that you and your children find your way through the new normal digital landscape, and encourage children to feel in charge of technology and use it responsibly, as opposed to technology being in charge of them.
Decide the What, Where, When and With whoms…
You need to decide what they can access, where they can use screens, when they can use technology, with whom they can connect online and what the limits are.
Watch out for the parental guidance certificates and if you think your 6 year old child will have a hard time pulling themselves off Minecraft ( recommended for +8), be aware you may have to supervise them and help them learn self regulation.
For homework? Or surf or game? This depends on your family schedule but it’s advised that no screens are accessed during the hour before bedtime as screen-usage interferes with sleep.
Do keep internet-enabled devices in a common place where you can monitor them. And have a DROP ZONE where the devices can stay and recharge when they are not being used. We recommend devices in the drop box at mealtimes and always out of the bedroom at night. Adults too!
It’s all about quality over quantity and you need to decide what’s right for your child, based on her temperament and age and stage of development and what she is using screens for. Work out a plan for your family’s lifestyle, as settling down on a Friday night to have movies and popcorn is a lovely bonding family ritual and no one wants to have to count minutes and turn a film off half way through!
When you’ve decided those fundamental boundaries maintain them by keeping it positive. Don’t have ‘DON’T’ rules such as “no mobiles upstairs” or “no gaming after 7pm”. Instead use ‘DO’ rules like “mobiles are used downstairs” and “you can game after homework and before 7pm.”
Always follow through. Often we start by thinking of what we should do when they mess up! But really we should be deciding what to do when they get it right. Adults rarely notice when children get it right. Do comment when they follow the screen rules. The positive consequence of following the rules is earning the right to use screens again.
Finally, model good habits. Be aware that if your own phone is surgically attached to your hip 24/7 and you are making calls at the dinner table and taking your phone to bed, it can be hard for the children to accept your rules. You’re not modelling your own values”.
Book Adventurers – a good screen alternative
Our interactive Book Club recognises how valuable the digital medium can be for children. We have created unique content designed to reflect upon, explore and extend award-winning children’s books through the power of your child’s imaginations (and screen time).
Our summer package Deep Blue Sea celebrates two exquisite books – The Blue Giant, the story of the sea suffering under increasing plastic pollution and one girls’ mission to help. Our second title, Ocean Meets Sky, tells the story of a boy and a boat journeying to recover memories of his beloved grandfather. Our digital good screen programming includes creative Read Alongs, interactive Craft and Draw Alongs, a dramatic filmed book adventure and an all singing and dancing full blown interactive wrap party for all our members.