Thursday, May 8, 2014

Screen Smart LifeImage by Paul Inkles, Creative Commons License 2.0
The week of May 5 – May 11 is celebrated as a “Screen-free” week. The point of the week is obvious in its name – unplug for 7 days and enjoy life without electronic devices of any kind. But I keep asking myself – is it really the point? Electronic devices pervade our lives, and most of us use them to work, to play, to connect to our friends and family, and to learn new things. Besides, despite our best efforts, we won’t be able to control our children forever, so I think it is much better to lay foundations of screen smart life while they are young. In this blog post, I want to share the steps to screen smart life that we used in the past and still use in our house.

1. Listen to Your Pediatrician

American Pediatrics Association recommends no screen time for children under 2 years old. We followed this recommendation with one exception – our daughter had about 5-10 minutes a day looking at Starfall with me and learning letters. I cringe when I see babies and toddlers playing on their own with electronic devices or mesmerized by TV. Human brain did not evolve to learn that way, and I subscribe to the theory, Better be safe than sorry when it comes to screen exposure for children at this critical period of their lives. Interestingly, in my daughter’s class children with the most serious learning and behavioral challenges are the ones with the most lax screen policies at home.

2. Turn TV Off When You Are Not Watching

I am always surprised when I visit other homes and see TV on when nobody is really watching it. Not only it’s distracting, but children get subconsciously bombarded by commercials and potentially scary or inappropriate content. Even cute screensavers are pulling our attention away from whatever we are doing and introducing mental noise. In our house we only turn TV on with the goal of watching it, and sometimes it stays off for weeks, at least during hours when our daughter is awake.

3. No Screens in the Bedrooms

We have two TVs (and multiple computers and other electronic devices) in our house. None of them reside in our daughter’s bedroom or in our bedroom. We believe that bedrooms should be reserved for reading, playing, and sleeping. We have enough “screen pull” in our lives as it is already.

4. Establish Your Screen Time Policy

Every family is different in their approach to screen time. Some families have special times for screens (usually when chores are done), some have “movie nights”, and some have unlimited screen time. Our daughter is only 7, and we limit her screen time to 30 minutes a day that she can carry over and accumulate up to 3 hours. We give her discretionary extra time for research like learning Rainbow Loom patterns on YouTube or learning math with Khan Academy. We hope to eventually transition to unlimited screen time but only when our daughter has shown ability to manage her time. It’s a little much to expect from a 7 year old, and we don’t want to nag her.

5. Decide What Content Is Appropriate

Again, different families have different views here, but I believe it is important to make a conscious decision about your rules and communicate them to your children together with the rationale behind them. We don’t have to worry about inappropriate content in movies or TV, since Smarty does not like movies. As for computer time, we use Google Safe Search for Kids on Smarty’s laptop to allow her to do research on her own.

6. Limit the Number of Apps or Games

We learned from our own experience that having too many apps available is just like having too many toys. Our daughter likes the flash games site, but the number of games available there is simply mind-boggling, and they are all bright and inviting. At iPad we now limit the number of apps available to her to under 10 – if we add one, we take another one off.

7. Help Them Develop Hobbies

There is nothing wrong with playing computer and video games as long as your children don’t think that gaming (and texting!) is the only interesting thing about electronics. Both my husband and I spend a lot of time on our screen-related hobbies. I blog, my husband writes his own software, makes Circuit designs, and lately decided to work on making a moisture sensor for our flower beds. One of our goals for Smarty’s summer is to teach her to upload and edit her photos and create simple slideshows. She starts to show mild interest in programming, and my husband hopes that one day she will transition from simply playing games to actually dreaming up and designing them.

Our Favorite Sites

I have several posts about our favorite sites:
Follow my Pinterest board Online Learning and Apps

Your Turn

How do you ensure that your children are ready for screen smart life?


Ticia said...

Ooohhhh, good things to think about, I like the idea of screen smart rather than screen free.

We don't have a set time limit for our kids' TV and screen time, but do limit it. Mainly when I think they've spent too much time in front of it and want them to DO something.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

Excellent post. We are screen-free most days unless you count Emma reading on the Kindle, but I do sometimes let Anna (and Lily with her, if she wants) watch Signing Time - with me. And we do sometimes let our kids watch shows on Amazon Instant Video or Google Play - but it's once or twice a week, if that.

Melissa said...

This is a great post. My kids are 3.5, 1.5, &1.5, and I admit I have definitely been way to lax with screen time, mostly for my sanity. It was hard to break the habit, but now that the weather is nice and the kids are getting older, I think it will be easy to keep screen time out of the picture for the most part. I put the tv in the closet at the beginning of the month and it has stayed there since while the kids are awake. Out of sight, out of mind!

Bronwyn Joy said...

This sounds a lot like our screen policy. We use a "healthy eating pyramid" to decide what sort of screen time to approve for our kids - I posted about it in detail last week:

More inspiration from screen free week :) .

I have to say our second child got more screen at an earlier age than our first, who I think got maybe two minutes in his first year, and that was by accident.

Emma @ P is for Preschooler said...

I like these tips. Screen-smart makes more sense in the long-term than screen-free. We need to teach kids how to use technology, including television, wisely, not just ban it altogether. (Just my 2 cents!)