By Danyelle Ubertini, LMSW
How to Make the Most of Screen Time
Screens are all around us. They’re on the street, in our homes, and even in our pockets. You may have heard that you should limit the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen. However, with few places to go, parents working from home, and increasingly restless children, you might find your child is spending more time in front of a screen than ever. If you are juggling work, social distancing, family, health, and any other stressors from this pandemic, limiting screen time may not be practical for you right now. You might be thinking, aren’t there any benefits to screen time? What about educational apps or TV shows? The simple answer is yes, there are some benefits to screen time and there are ways to maximize the time a child spends in front of the screen and incorporate it into their lives in a healthy and productive way. Engaging with screens can encourage learning, literacy, and technology skills that they will definitely use growing up in our tech filled world. Here are some ways to ensure that your child is getting the most out of the time they spend in front of a screen.
What you can do:
Pay attention to what your child is watching/playing on their screens. Make sure it’s age and developmentally appropriate so they have a better chance of understanding what is going on rather than just watching. Your child should be able to grasp the object of the game or the plot of the show. Not all apps and videos are created equal, and it is important that if a child is going to be using a tablet or watching a tv, that what they are viewing is beneficial for their little minds. There are tools that can help parents navigate the never-ending amount of media out there. Companies such as Common Sense Media use real parents to provide ratings and reviews of all kinds of media (movies, tv, apps, videogames, etc.) to determine if they are age appropriate, educational, and all around worth your child’s time.
There are so many kinds of apps that allow your child to practice a variety of skills. Word searches, flashcards, and music apps can all be great learning tools in different ways. Get creative with your app choice. If your child could watch YouTube kids all day, encourage them to use a coloring or puzzle app. Another great way to utilize their screen time is to look for audio book versions of their favorite stories (many of them are on YouTube) so they can turn the pages and listen when Mom or Dad can’t read to them. Finding interactive apps that star your child’s favorite characters is a great way to gear them towards certain games and activities.
The Most Important Tool
You are the most important tool in making sure your child has a positive and beneficial experience with screens! Co-viewing or co-playing with your child when they are using screens can help them absorb and process the information they are seeing much better! Just like when reading a book or playing with a toy, talk to your child throughout. Point out familiar images, explain what is going on, ask questions, anything to engage with your child while they engage with screens. This helps them understand what they are seeing and process the information in a different way.
Remember, not all screen time has to be educational. Screen time can serve social purposes too! Watching a movie as a family or playing a game online with a friend is beneficial for bonding and relationship building for kids of all ages. Spending time with your child benefits them in more ways than you can imagine!
Keep In Mind
There are reasons professionals warn against too much screen time. Just like adults, looking at a screen too much (especially near bedtime) can lead to trouble sleeping. We all know that a tired child can be a cranky child, so consistent and uninterrupted sleep is important for both of you. Screens can also be overstimulating for some kids which might make it hard for them to calm down when feeling big emotions, especially without a screen. You know your child best so if you notice they are having trouble going or staying asleep or they start showing negative behaviors, consider limiting their screen time.
Remember: Screens aren’t all bad, but they are no competition to real life experiences!