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Kids & Screen Time: A Parental Conundrum

As parents, we are responsible for making sure our children get proper nutrition, plenty of exercise, a good education, and so on. We read articles and books on all sorts of difficult parenting topics, including the modern problem of managing screen time. Some of these resources give us a glimpse into how the experts handle screen time with their own children. It can be a very tricky balancing act!

Case in point: my son became obsessed with learning Spanish using an app called Duolingo. Of course, I was ecstatic he wanted to learn Spanish. We are already a bilingual Franco-American family, speaking mostly French at home, and for a month or so, we were all “playing” Spanish on our iPhones and iPads.

But I also worried about the amount of time this child would have liked to spend learning Spanish if left to his own electronic devices.

My son is six years old. He’s smart and curious and very passionate about whatever his interest of the month happens to be at any given moment. Not long ago it was Spanish. (He’s moved on the Marvel superheroes now.)

He even confessed to me before bed one night that he had a hard time falling asleep because he was thinking about Spanish.

Fab, my husband, had been reading Harry Potter with him before bed and said he wasn’t even listening to the story because he was constantly interrupting with “papa, did you know…?” phrases about Spanish! I wish I could say I recognized myself not at all in this story, but he definitely followed in my footsteps on this one. My brain is constantly spinning about something, particularly when I am really into one big thing.

Like I said, it feels silly to complain about your kid being so eager to learn. But at the same time, if we let him follow his heart to its obsessive conclusion, he would have spent every waking moment on the iPad making us help him with his Spanish lessons.

Surely playing an educational game is better than games purely for entertainment, though, right? Or is it? That was just the first of our questions as we settled into this new phase in our son’s development.

When a child has the lofty goal of learning a language, do the same screen time limits apply? Does educational screen time have the same effect on kids’ behavior as non-educational screen time? Did we discourage his love of learning by refusing to let him spend his entire weekend learning Spanish on a tablet?

I did some reading, some thinking, and some discussing with a few people, including Fab. Our son had a five-month-old sister he was still adjusting to at the time, remarkably well for the most part, but a new sibling IS an adjustment. He had become SO excited and wild at times that we really didn’t know what to do with him or how to handle him. As a result of having a new baby in the house, he was definitely getting more screen time for a few months.

But did the extravagant behavior stem from the new sister, the added screen time, or both? Or maybe it was simply because he was almost six and he was tired of controlling himself all day at school, as one friend suggested, so he’s fresh out of self-control when he gets home?

We’ve been looking high and low for solutions. Ones that work!

Here’s what I found:

Tech giants like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates famously take all our money and help get us addicted to screens, but keep their own kids away from them while they are young. That definitely seems to make a statement.

However, experts in fields from pediatrics to sleep research to anti-violencewho are also parents, do not necessarily recommend a zero-tolerance to technology approach. Let’s be real — sometimes we really need those screens to help get through the day!

This article from the NY Times talks about how more and more tech people are sounding the alarm bells about how bad screens are for kids:

“We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.” New York Times, Oct. 26, 2018

To the author’s credit, a skeptic is also interviewed and casts doubt on the alarmist views of some of the stricter tech parents. It’s true that we don’t know enough about the effects of all the fast developing technology that runs our lives now, but it’s also true that if you go back a couple of centuries, many people were concerned about the effects of novels on young people, especially women. Now, we’re all desperate for our kids to enjoy reading novels, or just about anything really!

Times change and so do our habits. Change isn’t necessarily bad, just scary.

Children’s online safety book- teach them about internet safety from a young age. For 3 -10 years old

Personally, I’m not big on hard time limits for daily screen time.For one thing, schools have kids using screens. Is it some days? Everyday? I don’t even know. Should that count? No…probably not, maybe? But that bright light and graphics are still stimulating their eyeballs during that time.

Say you decide 30 minutes is the limit, what do you do if your kid is in the middle of something when the bell dings? I don’t like just stopping when I’m doing or watching something. I want to get to the end of my chapter or lesson or game or episode, so it’s to be expected that he will, too. What if you are in a bind and just need some uninterrupted time to work on something yourself and what if you need more time than the preset limit? See how quickly things get complicated?

Interestingly, experts don’t push for a hard fast limit on screen time — in one report from UNICEF, they recommend the “Goldilocks approach,” where parents put more focus on what kids are doing than how long they spend doing it. Obviously, six hours per day is a bad idea, but maybe 25 minutes is also going to be problematic. Moderation in everything, right?

When he wants to watch garbage shows with no real redeeming qualities or lessons to be learned, there is a limit — usually one episode for a total of 25 minutes. But if he’s watching Octonauts or this silly show Bat Pat on Netflix that actually has really sweet lessons about how to be a kind, considerate human in the world taught with monster stories, then I’m a little more generous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a limit of one to two hours of screen time per day. The school also asks that we limit screen time on school days.

Do check out the list below for educational and fun online activities

As with most things parenting, it seems that this is yet another thing that each family has to figure out individually. What works for you might not work for me. Some children (and some adults) are more sensitive to the addictive qualities of screen devices. Maybe a policy that works right now will need to be tweaked in a few months…

With all this in mind, what in the world did we decide to do?

Well, things got so out of hand right before our recent trip to France, so we had to do some serious screen fasting for a few days before he was allowed to binge watch movies on the eight-hour flight to Paris. If we hadn’t made him turn it off and try to sleep, he probably would have pulled an all-nighter and been an absolute wreck to get through customs and onto the train.

While in France, we mostly kept him away from the iPad, which was made easier by all the people and places we were visiting. Once we got back, we experimented for a week or so with no iPad time versus one Spanish lesson per day. I thought we would be able to find a compromise allowing him to keep up with Spanish and also be a tolerable human to be around, but it didn’t work out that way.

He doesn’t seem to be able to handle any amount of iPad time without his behavior becoming obsessive and frenzied. Like an addict, he counted the minutes till he could get his next fix. If I let him do a lesson at 4 o’clock one day, he waited impatiently till 4 o’clock the next day, doing nothing of interest while he waited.

Before discovering iPad Spanish lessons, my son could busy himself for an hour or more with LEGO, art projects, playing outside. After iPad Spanish, he stopped doing all of that and instead stared at the clock. We had to cut him off cold Turkey.

After a few days, he magically stopped asking for the iPad every two minutes and slowly began to rediscover his non tech interests. I feel a bit retrograde refusing to let him play any games on the tablet, but my husband and I were truly worried about what was happening to the boy who got even 10 minutes per day of screen time on the iPad. Our son couldn’t handle it. He didn’t realize it, but he was miserable. He is much better off without it. And besides, he will get plenty of technology exposure at school. We can try again at home another time.

Now, instead of yearning for the glare of the screen, he spends time outside on his obstacle course and proudly demonstrates how much stronger he is getting each day. He reads to his baby sister. He reads Marvel superhero stories to himself or to us. He draws superheroes. He dresses up as superheroes. He makes superhero accessories…You get the idea.

He got his imagination back.

I’d love to know what kinds of limits you set, if any, and how it has worked out for you. Please share your wisdom.

This post originally published in:  https://medium.com/@ginagee/kids-screen-time-a-parental-conundrum-9a547e0333db

Written by : Gina Gallant

You can also find me at www.livingimperfection.com.

Here are other tips to you keep children safe in the digital age : 

Cyber Flashing :The new online safety threat on your kid’s iPhone

10 things you can do right now to keep your children safeEasy and clever online safety tips

3 dangerous places for children to be online : 3 places kids should have limited internet access

Finally, don’t forget to click below:  

Children’s online safety book- teach them about internet safety from a young age. For 3 -10 years old

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