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Finding the "screen time" sweet spot

Let's face it. We live in a world run by technology. It's brought on so many positive things, but it also has some downsides, like every "new thing". Children today are exposed to so much more screen time than many of us were as kids, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing, if managed in the right way. In today's post, I want to give you some general info on kids and screen time, as well as some ways you can balance it with other activities, like books, for example!


How much is too much?

The pros and cons of screen time for kids are very much the same as they are for us adults...with the exception that children's brains are still developing, and they are still learning how to interact with the people and the world around them. I went on a bit of a nerdy research trip, and read a bunch of articles from the American Psychology Association, so I'm not just inventing the things I'm going to say here - I'm just simplifying them for you.

  • Apparently, babies up to the age of 18 months of age should have NO screen time (except when video chatting with family members, and even this isn't super recommended).

  • Babies between 18-24 months of age should be allowed to watch educational programs, but always with someone (a parent, babysitter, sibling or other caregiver). Essentially, they shouldn't just be parked in front of the tablet, TV or phone to "stay quiet".

  • Toddlers between 2-5 years old shouldn't have more than 1 hour per day of non educational screen time.

  • The recommendation for elementary school kids and older is that there should be a negotiation of non educational screen time hours established between parents and children.


Junk vs. educational screen time

Now, not all screen time is created equally (we'll get to that later), but at the end of the day, a screen is a screen, and some of the negative effects from too much of any screen time are:

  • Difficulty sleeping because of blue light exposure.

  • Obesity isn't a direct effect of screen time, but if a child becomes accustomed to enjoying their free time in front of a screen instead of playing outside, for example, it can be.

  • Speaking delays due to less face to face interactions.

Okay so now that we know the suggested limits of non-educational screentime, and the potential effects of all screen time, how on earth can we decide what is "educational" screen time and what isn't? If you want my honest opinion, I don't think there is actually "junk" screen time, because really, a child can learn something from just about anything they watch. What does (always in my opinion) differentiate "junk" from "educational" screen time is how it's presented to the child, and managed by the parent. Let me give you an example.

Parent 1 has a ton of work to get done, and their little toddler is full of energy and wants attention. Parent 1 decides to give toddler their tablet, puts on a series full of colorful singing animals, and tells toddler, "Okay, watch this and be quiet".

Parent 2 is just as busy as parent 1, and their little toddler is just as energetic, but has a different approach. Parent 2 gives toddler the tablet and puts on the colorful singing animals (in English) and says, "okay, I need to get some important work done now, so you can watch the animals for 20 minutes, and then you have to turn them off and draw me a picture of your favorite one. Then, when I finish working, we'll color it together, ok?".

I know, I know, you're like, "Claire, you have no idea what it's like to have a crazy toddler running around". Well, I do, sort of. I have nieces and nephews, and tons of friends with little kids. Guess what? The kids that are allowed to sit at the dinner table with us and interact, or the kids that bring their notebook and colors, or a book to read instead of just watching cartoons on their parents phone or tablet, are the kids that later come to you at home with a book to read, a game to play, or a picture to color. Kids develop habits extremely quickly, and if they get used to spacing out and staring at a screen every time they aren't the center of everyone's attention, it's going to cause all sorts of issues as they grow up.


The bottom line?

So essentially what I'm saying here is that screen time is inevitable, and offers many benefits (online English lessons, anyone?!) but us adults need to set the example for kids, as well as setting limits and offering alternative solutions. If kids see us mindlessly scrolling, they're going to want to do that too. If kids see us using a screen to learn something new, guess what, they're going to want to do it to. Even better, if kids see us pick up a book at the end of the day instead of switch on the TV, they're going to want to do it too (you can mindlessly scroll and watch Netflix on your own time, as well as eat chips and cookies and all the things you tell your child they can't eat 😉). The point is to find a healthy balance, and to keep screen time as meaningful and as educational as possible. Of course, kids should be allowed to watch their favorite cartoons and play video games, but they should be encouraged to spend just as much, if not more time, doing other activities, as often as possible with you, their parents! According to Jon Lasser, PhD, a psychologist at Texas State University and co-author, with Mike Brooks, PhD, of the 2018 book “Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World,

The number one recommendation that we give to parents is [to] spend time engaged with their kids. It’s simple, it’s good parenting and it promotes a healthy relationship.

My ready made solution for you!

As an online English teacher, of course I rely on all kinds of online resources, and when my clients ask me for extra things for their kids to do between lessons or over the holidays, I'm the first one that's guilty of sending them a bunch of links to online games, songs and videos. Not that this is bad, content in English should be considered educational content, but it's still screen time. So I started looking for something else that I could offer my clients and my community that could balance all those extra online resources, and I found Usborne books. Usborne is a lovely children's book publisher, and I have partnered with them so that I can distribute their books to my students! What does this mean exactly? Basically, if you want to order their books in English, you have to order them from the UK and pay the costly shipping fees. I act as the middle man, woman, rather. I order the books for you, and then send them to you so that you pay much much less for shipping! It couldn't be simpler. If you're curious to find out more about how it works, click this link to download a free PDF guide explaining everything! Or, if you'd rather just browse the book collection and then get in touch with me for more information, just click the button below and you'll get sent straight to my Usborne books website!


One final reminder! Sign up to my newsletter if you want to stay updated on all the fun new projects I'm planning for my students! When you sign up, you'll receive a free list of easy and fun ways to integrate English into your child's daily routine, at home!

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