With kids spending more time on digital devices nowadays, how can we as parents manage their screen time? Experts from several top international schools weigh in.
Even though the kids are slowly going back to school, we know learning as we know it has changed. Kids nowadays are increasingly savvier with digital devices and have educators have elevated learning to integrate technology in the classroom. But what does that mean for parents who may be worried about spending too much time in front of a screen? Well, we spoke to several experts from a number of top international schools here in Singapore for tips on how you can manage screen time at home. Read on to find out…
#1: Allocate a certain amount of time for electronic devices
Let’s face it, parents: juggling being a stay-at-home parent while working from home during the pandemic has been hard. But unsurprisingly, managing screen time is actually about managing time in general. Alan Zhai, Hillside World Academy’s Primary Years Programme (PYP) Coordinator shares why.
Forming good habits
Allocating a certain amount of time for electronic devices and for other activities like helping around the house or spending time with family helps discourage sedentary behaviour and the importance of eye-care habits. In fact, screen time can actually be useful in finding new interests and information. It doesn’t always have to be detrimental.
Only out of necessity
You’d be surprised to know that at Hillside World Academy, students don’t spend all of their time using digital devices. The school only conducts online lessons for a short period of time every day, with five-minute or 15-minute breaks in between to allow students to rest their eyes and minds. Hillside World Academy educators encourage students to walk away from their electronic devices from time to time. And its teachers also assign students homework that needn’t be done using computers. Plus, the school’s student support department has advised parents measures to raise their awareness of controlling screen time at home.
Be a part of your child’s learning
Want to cut down screen time? Join in the activities with your kids! Children turn to the internet or gaming devices because they have no other place to divert their attention and energy. Or, sometimes it’s because they have no one else to talk to. Start by inculcating healthy learning habits, like reading to help.
#2: Use guided access apps
It’s funny how we’re worried about our kids spending too much time in front of a screen when a TV or digital device is one of the first things we turn to when we need to entertain the kids. And recently, we’ve used it to reconnect with our family and friends, have virtual playdates and work on some home-based learning. So, it’s no wonder that all this extra time spent in front of a screen is increasingly making us worried for our kids. But, the Australian International School’s Wellbeing Team has some tips to help you counter that.
Acknowledge it’s tough during the pandemic
First, recognise it’s very challenging for children to self-manage their screen time. Especially during Covid-19, where screens and devices have become coveted sources of activity and distraction.
Use resources available to you
Next, look at the resources you have. For example, it turns out, guided access apps from your phone are more effective than trying to reason an iPad out of the hands of a frustrated six-year-old. Plus, these apps can help monitor your child’s screen time and access, too. Evaluate and focus on what screen time is meant to accomplish. But, not at the expense of the three pillars of mental health: sleep, nutrition and exercise.
It’s best to avoid screen time at least two to three hours before bedtime. Try to schedule recreational screen time as a reward for having completed other tasks throughout the day, including academic and learning tasks, as well as exercise. Or, you can also offer your children activities rich in sensory input, like arts and crafts, STEM, cooking, gardening, playing musical instruments and dance. Completing these activities offers opportunities to engage all five senses. Yoga, mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can also help engage the senses as part of mindfulness practice, especially if completed as a family.
#3: Recognise that digital devices are the future
Pandemic or not, the increased use of digital devices in recent years has challenged us in ensuring our kids have a balanced lifestyle. It’s vastly important we practise these habits while our children are young. Especially when technology is increasingly intertwined in our lives. Eugene Low, Principal of The Grange Institution, agrees and shares his advice for parents below.
Focus on the positives
It’s immensely detrimental for a child if screen time hampers on rest time. Why? It may affect a child’s opportunities to engage in interactions with others, physical activities in the outdoors or natural environment. Or, it may limit a child’s first-hand experiences with objects and phenomena in their environment.
How would it look like in school?
As schools slowly return to normal, we’re going to see a change in learning. At The Grange Institution, you’ll be glad to know that its educators consider if the use of a digital device is the most appropriate tool for a specific type of learning or for the particular learner. Though, there are some exceptions. The school wants its students to have all the skills and ease of using technology, but also to cultivate the ability to evaluate the need for technology as a tool in every project they undertake.
But, artificially limiting screen time is not keeping in tune with future developments in the world where digital screens will appear in even more areas of our lives and not just on the computers in front of us.
Use different types of technology
So, what can parents do? After all, technology, inherently, is an integral part of our lives and cannot be removed from modern living. Instead of not using technology, think about using different types of technology to excite your child’s learning instead. Cooking, baking, photography, exercising, construction and more can utilise technology in so many different ways. Oh, and don’t forget to find a balance! Your child’s holistic development is important, so tactile activities and social interactions, ample rest and being active indoors and outdoors should all be part of a balanced daily routine.
#4: Use technology as an extension and additional tool in learning
We know the dangers of too much screen time. Besides an increased chance of developing myopia, research has shown that too much screen time could impact a child’s development. For example, it could substantially impact on social and emotional development and can contribute to intense emotions like anxiety, depression, loneliness and more. But parents aren’t the only ones concerned, says Hanri Nel, Vice Principal of White Lodge Loewen Gardens.
Monitor and manage
Educators at White Lodge believe the use of technology shouldn’t come at the expense of other developmental areas, such as gross motor and fine motor skills – especially during early childhood development. Thankfully, its teachers play an important role in managing technology and deciding if it forms a part of the curriculum for older children.
A great educational resource and tool
Technology isn’t all that bad, particularly when it comes to learning. It can be a useful tool if used correctly and within limitations during with home-based learning. For example, showing a video of the metamorphosis of a butterfly could give your child a clear indication of the process. Just remember to back it up to make sure the information is understood and integrated instead of just passively received. Think: instead of a replacement method of learning, use technology as an extension to help create a basic understanding of a concept.
Make learning fun
So how can parents practise good screen time practices at home? Plan well and include fun activities! If the kids are bored, they’ll tend to gravitate towards screen time. So, set expectations and time limits before the start of the activity, and follow up with concrete, real-life experiences. Plus, children follow examples set by adults in their lives – so model good screen time behaviour at home
Top image: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash