Three Hacks to Get the Most Out of Screen Time & Technology for Children

Photo by Tum Gouw Creative Commons Zero

Photo by Tum Gouw Creative Commons Zero

Technology makes our lives easier. However, many of us live in constant fear that tech gadgets are “taking over our lives”. Even if this is true, with some helpful tips and self discipline, we can make sure that we are still in control!

Most adults can remember what it was like before we had a tiny computer in our pockets dictating our every move. But for our children? Well, they know no such world. My one-year-old picks up anything that resembles a phone and speaks into it “hellooooo”. My almost three-year-old (yikes!! I can’t believe she is almost three…) can work a tablet with no problem. This is their reality and it is the world in which we must parent. So, how can we make sure technology empowers our children and enhances their life experiences, instead of it turning them into zombies that can't function without it?

The Answer Is Time Management & Intentionality

Limiting the time our children spend with screens in front of their faces is important. Excessive screen time not only leaves children looking and acting like those zombies we dread, but it takes away from so many other activities they need to participate in in order to fully grow and develop. Reading, active play, speaking and communicating with others are all extremely important activities that are hindered by excessive screen time.

But beyond the screen, we also need to think about their play time. What kind of toys are they playing with? Do they have a lot of bells and whistles? Do they use batteries? The less a toy does, the better it is for their development! Take a moment and think about how your child plays. Does he or she KNOW how to play? If you stick them outside will they entertain themselves?

I have to check myself often. My kids have so much access to technology, that I have to intentionally create time and activities in which they will use their imaginations. A couple of weeks ago, we were out in our front yard visiting with neighbors. The girls were looking for something to do and my first thought was “hey, let me go bring them some toys for them to play outside.” And then I stopped myself. Why not let them flex those imagination muscles? So, we set up an outdoor kitchen and I picked up a couple of leaves and told my daughter to cook some chicken with it. Next thing I know, she is running through the yard looking for all kinds of “food” to cook in her new play kitchen. It was amazing!

My Three Rules For Better Technology Usage:

  1. DO YOUR RESEARCH The first step is actually doing some simple research on a show, app, toy or video game. Watch it or play it for yourself first! You need to decide if there is any educational value in what they are watching and whether they are learning inappropriate behaviors from the show or whether it goes against your family values. Just because something is made “for children” does not mean the content is great for them. If you find that your child is behaving a certain way, maybe whining, screaming, kicking and punching, it may very well be something they are watching or playing with.

  2. CONSTANT INTERACTION The second step is to interact with your child before, during, and/or after his or her time with a tech gadget. Children learn the most from interpersonal interaction! So, something as simple as having a conversation about what they are watching or playing will really help cement what they have learned. Describe what is happening (especially for younger children), explain things that seem to be too complicated for them, and ask open-ended questions. Taking the 5 to 10 minutes to do this will really make such a difference!

  3. BRING TECHNOLOGY TO LIFE The third and final piece is to bring some of these experiences to life! Try to plan activities or outings that go along with a show or game that your child really enjoys. Is your child playing a literacy game? Well, create some literacy games to play at home! Does your child love a particular show or movie? Pretend to be the characters from said show or movie, play a memory game with those characters on it, draw a comic strip based on them, etc. For some great hands-on activities that you can adapt to your child’s interests, be sure to follow us on Pinterest!

Technology can be great if it is purposeful and intentional. There are many educational shows, apps (like Spanish Safari), and video games that can open up a whole new world of learning and possibilities for your kids. Children can learn literacy and math skills, see places they have never seen, practice a new language, and even learn decision making and empathy from some of these well-made products. However, this will not happen by just passively watching television or playing video games for hours on end.

As parents, we are all trying to do the best for our kids.  Let's not fear our tech world or just be passive observers. Make it work for you and your family! Set boundaries on technology and encourage them to explore, learn, and be active!

What about you? How do you make tech gadgets work for your family? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Related Reading: * *Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood *American Academy of Pediatrics