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Don’t feel guilty about screen time for children April 12, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Role of the family.
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by Joanne Orlando

Parents have been struggling to contain their child’s technology use to the recommended screen limit of two hours a day. With schoolwork, homework, communication , social media and fun, that limit doesn’t acknowledge our new reality. But at last authorities have listened and the guidelines for children’s screen use have caught up to the digital age.

The guidelines used by the federal Department of Health are based on those developed by the American Academy of Paediatricians. The academy’s new guidelines acknowledge the dramatic change in our device use and the need for children to use technology throughout their day. Even the long-held recommendation that children under two should get no screen time at all has been dropped.

The important message from the new guidelines is to shift our thinking from ‘‘ screen time’ ’ to ‘‘ screen quality’’ . Some new time measures are provided for younger children: one hour for children 18-months to five years. For children aged six to 18, the academy has passed the baton to parents to decide. Parents are asked to take a more nuanced approach and keep check of what their child does on a tablet, computer, TV or other digital device rather than counting minutes.

This is a sound approach as 30 minutes of playing a game that centres on stealing cars and dealing with drug lords (one of the most successful online games in the world) is quite different to spending 30 minutes creating music on a device. The previous guidelines were developed in the 1990s in response to research on children’s viewing of violent and sexual content . But the new guidelines are based on recent research that shows that use of today’s interactive devices can have valuable learning benefits . Technology can enhance the development of children’s language and literacy, stimulate creativity and allow children to work with ideas in deep and meaningful ways.

While loosening the guidelines is a great move for families, it may bring a new kind of stress. Parents often feel uneasy about guiding their child’s technology use. This is fed by the constant messages that tell us technology is bad for children . It’s a strong message that has led to parental uncertainty about what is best for children and how to guide their tech use.

The guidelines ask parents to take the lead and encourage educational content. However the term “educational” can be quite hard to pin down if you’re not an educator. There are more than 80,000 apps labelled as educational in the iTunes store but not each of them is a quality learning experience.

Unfortunately many “educational” apps are not designed by an educator, nor even someone who knows anything about education. To assess if a site or app is educational , consider what is beneficial for your child to learn and check if the app works towards that.

Educational does not necessarily mean a school lesson. Activities that are creative, stimulate imagination and allow meaningful connection with others are great – think, as examples, of developing a music playlist, video-chatting with mum while she is away, using an online recipe to cook, taking photos of the family and creating an online album, and using a video to learn how to draw.

Encourage children to apply what they have learnt on their device to an off-screen scenario. Follow up what your child has learnt online by looking at realworld examples. The more ways a child can apply their knowledge, the better the educational experience.

Many parents separate their child’s technology use from family activities and this exacerbates their unease in parenting around technology. Not only will playing or creating together online help with decisions about screen quality, but it is also a great way to bond with your kids.

 

Dr Joanne Orlando is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. This article was originally published in the November 22, 2016 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition.

Comments»

1. Roxana Marachi, Ph.D - April 12, 2017

Thank you, Dr. Orlando for sparking important conversations about screen and tech use. For parents who are interested, this article includes a 2nd set of recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that did not get as much press as the main one covered in this piece: http://sco.lt/6R7km1

60 Minutes also just aired a fascinating segment where they interviewed tech developers who expressed concern about how so many of the smartphone content and apps were being designed purposefully to be addictive. It’s difficult to know what limits are truly best for children when as adults we have created a culture that normalizes such high levels of use. Perhaps the first step in supporting children’s development around these issues would be to acknowledge the need for adults to be less tethered to the screens, no? Or are we collectively engaging with tech in healthy ways that would be fine for children to emulate? Very interested as well in your perspectives on concerns raised by doctors (see babysafeproject.org) for very young children/infants whose heads are smaller and absorb more of the radiation from handheld wireless devices. Thanks for your research and work and hope to connect off the blog too. All best, RM


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