From smartphones to game consoles, kids today are spending more time than ever in front of screens. A 2013 study by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, found that kids under 8 years old were spending about two hours a day in front of a screen. While the risks of too much screen time have received a lot of attention in the press, not many studies have been done on the positive aspects of screen time for kids.When thinking about your kids’ screen time, it’s useful to separate it into two categories: education and entertainment. Educational screen time could include learning-focused games, educational TV shows, and internet use/research for school projects, while entertainment would be regular games and TV shows that don’t have a focus on learning.
A study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that 80% of kids ages 2 to 10 use educational media weekly. However, the study also found that there is a large drop-off in the consumption of educational media once kids reach age 4. The reasons behind this are unknown, but it’s likely that, at this age, kids start to become more autonomous with their technology use and are also exposed to media outside the home more frequently.
So how can parents ensure that screen time continues to be a positive learning experience for children as they grow up? Shifting from a general screen time allowance to encouraging kids to spend more time on educational media offers the following benefits:
In today’s world, there are plenty of apps, games, and websites designed with learning in mind. Passively watching a cartoon is not the same as using an app designed to teach keyphysics concepts or help kids learn a foreign language. Whatever your kid wants to learn, it’s likely that there’s a tech tool to help them. With a little research, you’ll be able to stock your kid’s devices with apps and games that instill knowledge.
In addition to concepts that they’ll use in the classroom and beyond, much of today’s technology for kids provides a way for them to develop key life skills while also having fun. One of the most common skills that kids develop by playing games is problem-solving. Whether your kid is building a new item in Minecraft or trying to beat a level in Skylanders, many games present kids with new and different challenges to solve. Kids must use their creativity as well as other keys skills like time and resource management, flexibility, and persistence to advance in the game. These elements engage kids in a meaningful way while providing an important outlet for practicing these important life skills.
While sitting in front of a screen can seem like an isolating experience, many video games and mobile apps provide a way for kids to connect with their peers and form relationships. Today’s games are all about being social, so kids can play with their friends even if they aren’t together in person. Spending screen time with friends can strengthen bonds between kids but can never replace face-to-face interacting, so establishing a healthy balance between online and IRL hangouts is critical.
Unlike prior generations, today’s kids will be using technology all of their lives. This makes it more important than ever for them to learn how to use these tools responsibly. Whether it’s for school, for work, or for personal use, technology is an integral part of their lives, so it’s important to instill a healthy attitude towards technology and appropriate habits for its use. By encouraging kids to explore new kinds of technology that challenge and excite them, parents can empower kids to be creators, not just consumers, of technology.
The Bottom Line
Despite the negative connotations of screen time, using technology for learning is a great way for kids to supplement what they learn in the classroom, as well as develop important life skills. With a proper balance of real-life activities and educational screen time, parents can set their kids up for success by passing on a natural understanding of and appropriate affinity for technology.