Archives for October 2019

Screen Time: Strategies for Plugging into Healthy Technology

Is there such a thing as ‘good’ screen time?

We’ve all heard it – too much screen time can cause insomnia, social disconnection, even impact cognitive development.  As parents, we agonize over how much is too much. Should I be confiscating their phones and iPads? Limiting use of the wifi and TV?  Shutting down the video game console?

Actually, researchers say there are upsides to the technology era we live in.  

Says Dr. Katherine M. Keyes, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, “Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children. These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community.  We caution against over interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains an important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success.” Dr. Keyes made her remarks following a study she conducted on the positive effects of video games on children.

Kara Loo, writing in the Huffington Post, notes seven different ways video games can help kids in school.  Among them, she cites development of critical thinking and reading skills. In her article she says, “Video games also hone spatial thinking, reasoning, memory, perception, and problem-solving — all which come in handy for a wide range of technical careers.”

So what is a parent to do?  

The very best time to start thinking about screen time is early – before the age of 5.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 18 months not have any screen time.  For 18 – 24-month-olds, they advise only high-quality programming that you watch with your child. For two-to-five-year-olds (preschoolers), the AAP says you should limit screen time to an hour per day.  

As you decide what is appropriate for your family, you can begin to talk about the use of technology and set expectations.  Conversations started when your child is young helps establish a pattern of communication about technology early on, which can reduce the likelihood of challenges when they are teenagers.

It is also a good idea to take a look at your own relationship with technology.  Very young children absorb much of what they know by observing their environment.  What are your children seeing when they watch how you use technology? How much are you on your phone?  What are your children learning from observing you?  

I was in Seattle over the summer.  We were hurrying down the street, with three hungry children in tow, anxious to get them fed.  Walking along one block, I noticed another family working their way down the same street. Dad was out front, with their older daughter.  Mom followed with the younger child in a stroller. Dad was holding his daughter’s hand with one hand and his cell phone to his ear with the other.  

I watched them walk the entire length of the block, he deep in conversation, she beside him.  She glanced up at him every so often, but he never noticed. His eyes looked keenly ahead as he focused on the conversation he was having on the phone.  

It was only a moment in time.  Perhaps he’d told her before the phone call started that he’d be busy while they walked.  Maybe she was only checking to see if he was still busy. But I was struck by what he was missing as he pressed forward, unaware of the non-verbal communication from the child at his side.  

It’s easy to get caught up in the demands of our ever-present technology.  A quick check of incoming messages becomes a half-hour of email responses. Spending that free five minutes on social media becomes twenty or more.  

There is a lot of good in the technology we all have access to.  But we are also increasingly aware of the need for establishing boundaries around the time we spend with it.  As Geraldine Walsh exclaimed in an article in the Irish Times, “We need to disconnect and reassure children we value them above our devices.”  

Want to learn more?

For more information on the healthy use of technology, join us at the Old Mill Center on October 15th, 6:30 pm,  for a free parent workshop, “Strategies for Plugging Into Healthy Technology.”  Designed to help parents of young children (0-5) get off on the right foot, the workshop will be led by Richard Halpern, an educator with over 25 years of experience helping parents navigate the growing up years.

Workshop attendees will learn the initial steps to take to assure balance and control around the issue of screen time.  Halpern will help parents learn how to identify a good app or video and will provide resources you can take home and use immediately.

The workshop is free and open to the public. Free childcare will be provided.  Call 541-917-4884 to sign up and register for childcare.  

Ultimately, as parents, it is our goal to frame the conversation with our children so that as they grow they are educated and empowered to make healthy choices.  “Plugging into Healthy Technology” will add tools to your parenting tool kit that will help your family have a healthy and empowered relationship with technology.

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