Screen time has become a highly discussed topic with many heated arguments. I have heard so many impassioned arguments as to why screen time is a bad thing, how it causes health and behavioral issues, and I was even told I was abusing my children by letting them have screen time. Yikes. I honestly think that screen time can be a good thing. I am not talking all day, every day. Have screen time with limits and boundaries. Use it wisely. This is a day and age of computers. Technology is a huge part of everyday life and just banning all screen time is not going to work. Our children need to know how to use it, how to navigate the internet with discernment and use it at school. We definitely have screen time in our house and have done for several years. Sometimes we just need it (or I just need the girls to have it so I don’t go crazy.) But I am not just letting the girls watch whatever they want whenever they want. I use screen time to my advantage.
Let’s not be passive
I do believe that just letting our children sit in front of the tv watching whatever is not a good thing. It is passive and they are not engaging their brains. They are not getting exercise and they are engrossed in things that are limiting them. This is where we, as parents, step in and get proactive about how our children use screen time and for how long.
Screen time in our house
I confess that I am guilty of some days letting my girls have too much screen time. Some days it is necessary to my sanity. My girls do spend a lot of time outside exploring, riding their bikes, playing on the swings, etc. so I am not worried about them getting exercise. They also engage in a lot of imaginative play with their toys, play with puzzles, look at books, etc. They are using their brains. But we have certain things in place when it comes to screen time:
- YouTube may only be watched if Mum and Papa are around to see what you are watching. On their little devices, we have disabled YouTube so they cannot get into it. As a treat, they may watch it sometimes on the big TV but Mummy and Papa get veto rights on what they want to watch.
- On their little devices, we have loaded up games that require thinking, strategy, and/or interaction. Yes, they still have a few “just fun” games but the majority have an educational bent.
- We don’t have cable TV so we set up profiles on Netflix and Hulu that enable us to stop them from being able to watch shows we don’t like. Mummy and Papa always have veto rights on the shows they want to watch.
- You may not have screen time if you have not had playtime – either inside or out.
- When Mummy and Papa say time is up there is no right for complaint. Complaining cancels out screen time later.
If you have problems with your child being so engrossed in what they are watching that there are issues when you say time is up this is something that really helps. Do not just say “time is up” and then take away the device or turn off the tv. This is jarring to your child.
- Enter into their space. Sit next to them. Start asking questions, such as “What are you watching?” or “What game are you playing?” Get them to answer you by explaining what is going on or what they are doing.
- Earn their engagement. By gently asking questions and engaging them in conversation you have moved them away from being so engrossed. They have switched off from the screen and can talk to you. Now is the time to say that time is up or to give a heads up.
- Give a heads up. Just suddenly turning off the tv or taking away the device is cause for explosion (or it is with our girls). Once they have started talking to you tell them how long they have remaining, or negotiate the time – “Do you want 3 minutes or 5 minutes”? Allow your children to be part of the process.
- For younger children provide a count down. Once you have established that time is now up, allow your younger children to count down with you. We always ask if they want to count down from 5 or 10, just to get them involved and feeling like they are part of it all. We say “Goodbye TV” or “Tschuss Fernsehen”. If they have been playing on their devices, we let them give it back to us rather than us taking it from them. So much more peaceful!
How to make screen time positive
Screen time does not have to be passive all the time (though, it can be good for our children to just relax at times. I don’t make my girls only play or watch educational things. Here are some ways we can make screen time positive and work to our advantage (that is, they are learning something!):
- Pick games and apps that encourage thinking, questioning and interaction
- Teach your children how to research and then set questions for them to answer
- Let your children learn how to code or design websites or design their own games
- Learn photo editing and let your children edit photos they have taken
- Use YouTube to learn a new skill, like sewing or cooking
- Use educational apps that help with spelling and mathematics
- Interactive books, or even just reading books with something like the Kindle app
Some Games and Apps I love
From teaching to being a parent, there are a number of games and apps that I really like and try to incorporate. There are programs such as ABCMouse.com that are helpful for younger children. Using those as part of learning and reinforcing ideas is great. Do we want our children on these all the time? No, but some time on these is fine.
Here is a list of some of the apps I really like.
- Memory Match
- Teach your monster how to read by Usborne Books
- Word searches, crossword puzzles and word games
- PBS Kids games
- Hidden pictures
- LEGO Super Heroes Movie Maker
- Mad Libs
- Khan Academy Kids
Is screen time the evil some people think it is? No. But just letting our children watch what they want to watch all the time is not going to help them. We need to be parents and limit the time and use it to our advantage by steering them into some educational waters and letting their brains engage rather than just be passive bystanders all the time.