The hopeful end of the pandemic and the spring weather offer optimism for the near future when children will attend in-person birthday parties, play dates, and even sleepovers. Those trends will likely also mean less screen time.
But the ongoing dilemma for parents about their children’s use of technology—how much, how soon, what kind—will not change as the pandemic recedes. There are no easy answers for parents in this arena. We all want our children to become adept at navigating the digital world while not becoming overwhelmed or single-focused on screens and technology.
At Blake, the Information Service department partners with our Lower School counselors each fall to offer families advice and support for parenting in the digital age. Our presentation includes the following tips.
1. Limit access for youngest children.
There is no harm in going slow. Access to technology should be very limited during the pre-kindergarten years. At this stage of child development, there should be an emphasis on outdoor activities, playing with objects, and interacting with other children. The best technology for this age group: Magna-Tiles, blocks, dolls, and Legos. Children need hands-on exploration and social interaction to develop language, motor skills, and social-emotional capacity. Our advice is to stay away from screens unless you are using them to connect for video-chatting.
For children ages 2 to 5, limit screen time to one hour per day, make it high-quality media such as the Sesame Workshop, and discuss what you see with your child.
2. Parents should be a partner.
Research shows that when children are allowed to be on screens and online they benefit when adults take an active interest in what they are doing. Parents should ask leading questions, such as “what are your strategies for winning this game?” or “how do you choose your teammates when playing?” or even “which characters do you like the best?” If your children see you as partners and active participants in their digital lives, they are more likely to accept your guidance about their tech usage.
3. Why is it so hard to unplug? Boredom, connection, movement, and sleep.
Screen time is not inherently bad, but keep a lookout for signs that your children are not getting enough sleep or that they find it challenging to be bored. A good night’s sleep is fundamental to learning, memory, and well-being. Forming good sleep and exercise habits, connecting with family and friends, and celebrating boredom are measures that will serve your children well.
4. Don’t be an enabler.
“Enablers” take a laissez-faire approach to oversight of their children’s digital lives. They do not limit or mentor, and the kids are left to their own devices. Studies have shown that the children of enablers, with unfettered access to devices and apps, struggle and sometimes experience trouble socially and academically.
5. Limiting isn’t enough.
While well-intentioned, parents whose only digital approach is to strictly limit screen time miss the opportunity to engage in meaningful interaction about the nature and quality of their children’s media diet. Rather than shielding children from the digital world, parents should work to help them navigate and understand it.
6. Be a mentor.
If you provide access to technology at home, then be a highly selective curator and mentor. Choose technology designed for children to be creative (e.g., painting, drawing, music, or programming), and not sit-and-get (e.g., watching media by themselves, playing routinized video games, etc.). Discussing how to interact in digital spaces gives children tools for handling online challenges.
7. Create a family media plan.
A well-crafted media plan sets a foundation for household use and offers parents and children the opportunity to discuss topics such as screen-free zones, screen-free times, and device curfews. Conversations with your children help build trust and empathy, as they negotiate relationships online and offline. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this helpful Family Media Plan.
8. Don’t forget TV and movies.
These more traditional screen habits can get a bad rap. But when done well, shows and movies can inspire, teach, and entertain. Watching along with your kids offers lots of learning opportunities: you can explain things, talk about the TV commercials, or just sit back and enjoy the time you’re spending together. Reviews from organizations such as Common Sense Media can be trusted to provide good options.
David Boxer is Blake’s Director of Information Support Services. He has more than 17 years of experience in the educational technology field, including service as a classroom teacher and curriculum development. He is also a professional learning design coach for Global Online Academy’s professional learning team focused on implementing online and a blended pedagogy. He is the father of children ages 11 and 7.
The Blake School is a Pre-K through 12 independent school with three campus locations in Hopkins, Minneapolis and Wayzata. For information about our early childhood education program see www.blakeschool.org or talk with teachers, parents, students and staff at an upcoming Discover Blake event. Applications are still being accepted where space is available for the 2021-22 school year.