Screen time for kids: Ditch the techno guilt

Screen time: how to ditch the guilt.
Screen time: how to ditch the guilt. Photo: Getty

We hand over our phone in a café just so we can have an uninterrupted conversation and a hot coffee. We let an Xbox session go longer than usual, because tonight, we are too tired to argue. We pretend we didn't hear another episode of Mister Maker start up on the ipad, because it allows us to finish preparing the dinner and have time left over to check emails.

Lurking not far away from the tech-induced serenity however, is an inner voice. 'I really need to get better at sticking to time limits. Am I impeding their ability to engage and interact in meaningful real life relationships? Are these screens affecting their eyesight? Am I hampering brain development? Contributing to the world obesity crisis? Am I turning my child into a zombie?

Before we torment ourselves, lets take a look at how we can gain a little perspective, some factual understanding and learn to ditch the techno guilt.

With every household in Australia averaging eight internet enabled devices, our immersion into a world of technology is clearly here to stay. Some schools are even beginning their Bring Your Own Device programs with students as young as five years of age. So the technology will only continue to become a regular part of our children's lives and therefore the lives of our families.

So how do we incorporate the technology without the feelings of guilt?

Technology helps young people learn. New educational apps are being introduced constantly, helping children develop the cognitive and creative skills to compliment their learning. Certainly many schools are recognising the benefits the technology can provide as they expand their classrooms to incorporate lessons from around the globe. Recent research also points to the many benefits of playing video games. Aside from the physical development of hand eye coordination and spatial recognition, there are numerous social and emotional benefits in allowing kids some time to play games. For many, the games provide stress release, allow for social connections, a place to excel, to fit in and to hang out in a relatively safe environment.

We need also to look at the types of screen time and technology our kids are using. One can easily be left feeling slightly neglectful when we read about recommended time limits. It's important to note however, that these recommendations are often referring to passive as opposed to interactive, screen times. There can certainly be a time and place for passive use of screens, such as watching television, Youtube videos and listening to stories on a tablet.

But when we are playing games, creating stories, building virtual cities, editing photos, making movies or even doing a dot to dot puzzle, the interactive nature of the screen time allows us to be more generous in our allocation of time limits.

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These interactive elements of the technology can also provide for us ways to bond and connect with our children. We can talk to a pre-schooler about what they think will happen next in a story. We can watch a video on how to make paper planes or a billy cart and follow it up with a family race. We can explore the world of Minecraft with our tween and be amazed by the combination of engineering, mathematical and problem solving skills needed in order to create our collaborative worlds. Playing games with our kids is not only a great way to connect and communicate, but it gives kids a thrill to be able to teach us something that they are more than likely excelling in.

We need to look at our individual child too. Some kids love the technology and thrive with it. Some can take it or leave it. Some struggle with keeping it under control. By focusing on our own child's needs we can better ascertain appropriate boundaries. We can look at how it affects other areas of their lives. Are they still able to complete homework? Engage in extra curricula activities they have previously enjoyed? Are they maintaining friendships? Are they able to come to the table for dinner without a complete meltdown?

It all comes back to aiming for that balance and discovering what works for your family. Absolutely we need to be conscious of what our kids are doing with the technology. We need to set the rules and guidelines dependent on their ages and stages of development. We need to keep providing them with opportunities to enjoy life away from the screens. We need to look at the behaviours we ourselves are role modelling. And maybe then, we can hit the pause button, and cut ourselves a little slack. 

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