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.Image by Paul Inkles, Creative Commons License 2.0
1. Listen to Your PediatricianAmerican 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 WatchingI 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 BedroomsWe 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 PolicyEvery 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 AppropriateAgain, 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 GamesWe 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 y8.com, 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 HobbiesThere 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 SitesI have several posts about our favorite sites:
Online Learning and Apps