Screen Time - How to Strike the Right Balance
Screen time - and the question of how much is too much - is a hot topic at the minute.
We parents might find ourselves wondering how to balance allowing our children to take advantage of all the educational benefits that this technology offers, with making sure their growing brains aren’t negatively affected by over-exposure.
Based on the research, on one hand it appears that early access to technology can help kids improve fine motor skills and get to grips with our tech dominated society early on, but on the other it seems like we’re putting our kids in danger of turning into attention deficit teenagers with poor social skills. The campaign, Wait Until 8th, here in the US, which aims to encourage parents to say no to smartphones until children are at least 14, has been gaining momentum, despite findings that three-fourths of children have their own mobile device by age four.
The truth is that we are currently taking part in a living experiment - our children are the first generation to grow up with exposure to screens pretty much from the moment they are born, so we don’t actually know what impact this will have as they reach adulthood and onwards.
What we do know
Aside from the conflicting opinions, research is pretty much in agreement on the following points:
We know that the blue light that screens give out is damaging for children’s sleep patterns (and ours, for that matter!) so screens should be ruled out in the run up to bedtime.
Physical movement has a major impact on learning and brain development in children - kids need to get some activity to benefit, which means taking a break from the screens.
Children tend to do less reading the more digital devices they have access to.
Beyond this, a lot of what is said is common sense. If screens are being used regularly as a form of babysitter to keep kids occupied it can develop into a form of benign neglect. Again, balance is key - but a small amount of passive viewing goes a long way when it comes to screens.
Tips for parents
Authorities across the world differ in their guidelines but most suggest that children between 5-18 years should have no more than two hours of screen time per day. This can be hard to enforce with older children who could easily spend this amount of time doing research for homework.
From our perspective, the main thing to consider is that all screen time is not created equal - there is a difference between time spent passively in front of the TV, and that spent doing something very interactive on a screen. An hour of playing a game that teaches coding, for example, is going to have a massively different impact than 30 minutes of mindlessly watching streamed YouTube clips. It’s more than a little confusing for parents that these different activities tend to be lumped together under the banner of ‘screen time’ so it’s important to be mindful not just of how long your child is spending at the screen, but what they’re doing when they’re there.
As parents, we can monitor and regulate children's screen time in lots of different ways. Providers have made it easier for us by building in various parental controls, not only to keep children safe but to restrict what they can access and how much time they can spend online.
Microsoft allows you to set how much time your child is allowed with each of their devices and sends reports so you can see how long they have spent on each website or game.
Google takes this a step further and allows you to see all of your child’s usage as well as to remotely lock their device when it’s time to play, study or sleep.
Apple has just announced that it's new operating system, iOS 12 will include features that allow parents to effectively monitor and restrict kids' screen time. The new software is due out in September 2018, so until then, parents using Apple devices can only control what apps children buy and restrict what they can access on their devices.
Look to yourself
Parents also need to look at their own screen habits - it’s hard for kids to accept screen time limits if mum or dad is constantly glued to their mobile phone. So be a good role model for your children and set yourself screen-free times and places - you will reap the benefits of this too!
In it together
Screens and technology are frequently blamed for the lack of family conversation - to get around this you can enjoy screen time along with your child. Joint engagement in digital devices is a great way to mentor your child’s consumption and can spark off a shared experience that actually promotes conversation.
How Komodo fits in
At Komodo, we believe that tablets and phones are amazing learning tools which are incredibly useful for teaching children. Learning on screen, at its best, will provide interactivity, personalization and instant feedback that encourages children to keep learning.
But we also acknowledge that children need to be active, need to play and need to use their imaginations away from the stimulation of screens. We designed Komodo with this in mind - to take advantage of the brain’s capacity for deeper and more effective learning through short little and often learning sessions with a rest in between. We also have a built-in lesson limit which kicks in to let kids know they have done enough and to remind them to go out and play for this very reason.
Komodo has deliberately not been designed as a game, because games tend to get kids hooked and unable to put down their devices (- not to say that Komodo isn’t fun, though!).
In short, it’s the way that children use screens that is the real issue, not just the amount of time they spend on them. Tablets and computers can offer so much but it needs to be balanced with the right amount of physical movement and social interaction so that we can help our children develop to their full potential.
About Komodo - Komodo is a fun and effective way to boost K-5 math and English skills. Designed for 5 to 11-year-olds to use at home, Komodo uses a 'little and often' approach to learning (15 minutes, three to five times per week) that fits into busy family routines. Komodo helps users develop fluency and confidence in math and language arts - without keeping them at the screen for long.