On average, children as young as two spend 1,400-1,600 hours a year watching content on a screen, including televisions, video games, phones or tablets. During the pandemic, when children are increasingly homebound, that number is drastically increased. So, how are parents managing screen time during lockdown?
Nicole Dreiske, Executive Director of the International Children’s Media Center, has worked for 40 years to develop simple, lasting techniques to ensure that children develop a healthy and productive relationship with digital content. Her acclaimed book, The Upside of Digital Devices, offers techniques to use screens smartly to improve a child’s physical, emotional, and cognitive development.
“To a child, a screen is a magical world full of unlimited possibilities and excitement, but, without guidance, they don’t possess the skills to process content in a healthy way,” Dreiske tells Parentology. Her Screen Smart program, which is presented to more than 5,000 children annually through parent workshops, “was developed to help kids understand how best to process digital content, to turn screen time into a shared experience that is educational and leads to bonding between the parent and their son or daughter.”
Below are Dreiske’s top 10 most effective techniques adapted from her workshops and book. They provide parents with tools to turn screen time into a productive and engaging activity.
10 Tips for Managing Screen Time During Lockdown
1. “Screen Talk” Method
From an early age, children have been trained not to speak while they watch digital content, but quietly focus so as not to “miss anything.” Dreiske asserts that digital content should be used as an active learning tool, spurring conversation and critical thinking. Her “screen talk” method promotes physical and developmental growth through conversational engagement and objectivity.
2. Bring Back Family Movie Night
Many parents use screens to keep their children occupied or to calm them down so the parent can attend to other tasks. Dreiske asserts that screen time should be a shared experience. For a child, obtaining their parent’s attention is the equivalent to striking gold. Implementing a shared screen-watching experience like movie night is a way to build an emotional bond and ensure that the content can be used as a learning tool.
3. Don’t Be Afraid of the “Pause” Button
When sharing a screen with a young one, the parent should allow conversation to flow with the help of pressing pause to create discussion around the show, game or movie on the screen. Thisalso allows thechild to think through and fully process the details by asking questions of their own.
4. Role Reversal: Ask Them the Questions
Using the pause technique, a parent should not hesitate to ask their child about a character, the setting or the content. Dreiske suggests making the screen an interactive tool by asking open-ended questions such as “How do you think this character is feeling?” or “How is this making you feel?” As a result, screen time becomes a channel of communication, as opposed to an experience where the child is left to come up with their own interpretation of the content they are viewing.
5. “I Spy” Something Digital…
Dreiske encourages parents to make screens exciting and interactive. Parents can play a game of “I Spy” or start guessing what will happen next in the plot. This not only allows for an excuse to play with their parent but also encourages “screen talk” and some fun competition as well. It also can help with basic cognitive skills, by encouraging the child to identify something of a particular color, an animal, or read text on the screen.
6. Make Kids Feel Safe
Universally, physical safety is the number one rule for parents,but many do not consider how important it is to keep an open channel for your child to talk about their thoughts or feelings about what they might have learned from their screens. Creating a safe space positively habituates screen time with family discussions.
7. Normalize conversations about screen content
Just as an adult might ask their partner “How was work?” or their children “How was school?”, asking a child what they learned from their TV show or favorite app should be a normal part of the day. Simple, open-ended questions, such as exploring the plot of their favorite cartoon, can spark parent-child bonding and cognitive development.
8. Movie-telling: The New Storytelling
An adult should share with their child what they found interesting in what they watched or read on their screen that day. Involving them in adult conversation results in higher confidence, intellect, curiosity and overall awareness.
9. Is It Fun, Bad, Sad or Scary?
Dreiske’s FBSS stands for Fun, Bad, Sad and Scary: the four ways a young child typically reacts to media. Be sure to walk your child through examples of these emotions and help them acknowledge, reflect upon, or enjoy the screen time experience. Ensure that they recognize that the content is make-believe, not reality, and that their reactions will pass. Through open dialogue, discussing FBSS develops a child’s ability to recognize their feelings about what they’re absorbing via screen-time.
10. Get Creative!
Turn the stationary activity of screen-time into something fun and even colorful. Ask your child to draw their favorite character or help build a stage set with blocks. Get even more active by acting out their favorite scenes with them or making a funny video on the tablet.