Just the other day my 14-year-old son showed my wife and me a new video he had been watching on YouTube. (That’s right, I just admitted that my son has been allowed to watch YouTube!!!) The topic of the video? (10 Letters We Dropped From The Alphabet). The video was well presented with interesting facts about lost letters in the English alphabet. I bet not many knew the “&” (ampersand) was once considered a letter and not just a symbol. How do we get to here with the surplus of available content out there?
Is there such a thing as “good screen time” or is it all simply bad?
I cannot tell you the amount of good quality information that is out there on the internet, on TV shows and even on YouTube. My family has spent many evenings learning about new concepts and history facts over the years. We have seen the benefits that a well worded argument or presentation can spur dialogue in family discussions. My children tend to gravitate towards informational videos like: TheCrashCourse.com, Discoverykids.com, kids.nationalgeographic.com, and the like. There is no doubt that quality, factual based information can be valuable in your family. There are also benefits to watching/listening to high quality fiction. But just like everything else in life, not everything that is on screens is great and, in many cases, potentially damaging.
The questions then: When? How? And What? to allow in your home and on your child’s device. If you would not allow a complete stranger inside your home while you were away to sit with your child, consider the following.
The age-old question of “What age is old enough?” (see what I did there?) The truth is, the more important question becomes, “What is the intent of the screen in your home?” Remembering that children are still developing and absorbing their environment through their childhood. Some research is showing that the Absorbent Mind, that Montessori describes as being most impactful in the early Primary ages, has aspects reaching far into young adulthood. Some, and actually most, children need much longer time experiencing the real world and activities that support their development over screen time, regardless of the quality.
If the goal of the screen is to act as distraction or as a “babysitter” consider something else. Screens used in this way, tend to leave the parents out of control and open your child up to be exposed to many different things, sometimes unpleasant. If you have ever walked back into the room while your child was using a screen and heard something that you were shocked to hear, this is what I am referencing. Everything your child is exposed to has the potential to impact her/his development. Even if the effects are not overt and visibly observable, they are making an impact. Making sure the use of the screen time has purpose can help you determine when it is appropriate. This leads us to the next question.
With the abundance of technology devices that are even geared to and marketed for children, it can be difficult to determine what is appropriate and what is harmful. Parents today are confronted with the same questions parents of every generation are faced with, “How do we implement/avoid the new technology of the day?” This same questions, fears and warnings have come from every generation. Socrates did not believe that writing was an effective means of communicating knowledge. To him dialogue between living people was the only way to impart and communicate “true learning.”
As funny as that may seem, it does follow quite a lot of what Dr. Montessori believed. The true path towards development is through “meaningful work of the hands.” Without this physical work, the person is not as able to incorporate the learning.
How does this fit into the “real world” of today’s home? The point is not to become afraid of technology, but to incorporate it in ways that fit with your family’s values and priorities.
In the end it is important that you encourage your child to engage socially and physically in their world regularly and it is highly recommended to stop screen time at least one hour before bed. The lights from devices disrupt the natural sleep cycle.
Now that we have explored the (When? And the How?) we come to the What? First and foremost, constantly monitor WHAT your children are exposed to on screens. This includes but is not limited to: Television shows, YouTube videos, online games, browsing history, console games, messages, and podcasts. Just because the first time you “reviewed” the content, it “seemed fine” does not mean it will stay that way. Parental controls can also be effective here.
As I mentioned earlier, most people would be shocked if a stranger assumed s/he could just walk into their home and sit with their children alone. The very thought should send shivers down the spine. Every day, you entrust your children with us at FCMS. You know that we have done due diligence to ensure the adults in contact with your child have been thoroughly vetted and verified to be safe with children. Those of you who use “babysitters” (I am not sure if this is still the appropriate term, but you get the point.) check to see that they are safe to be with your child. The same practices tend to fall away when giving your child access to the internet, television, smart device, etc.
The easiest way to do ensure your children are accessing family appropriate material is to make screen time a collaborative activity. When children know you will be monitoring their technology time, they will feel secure that their choices will be appropriate.
One last strategy to help you navigate this is to remember it is very important to monitor your child’s behavior both online and in real life (IRL as the kids say).
If you notice sudden changes in mood, quick to agitate or sadden, loss of interest in previous activities, anxietyaround seemingly unrealistic things, abnormal sleep patterns, or any time you feel concerned it is time to reevaluate the technology “How?” and the “What?”
So, is screen time a Friend or a Foe? The answer is, as most things in life, it depends on When? How? And What?