It’s that time of year: back to school. Whether you are celebrating or mourning the end of summer, this time marks a fresh start for families. As parents consider how to best help their child achieve success this school year, audiologists and speech-language pathologists know how much tech use can affect a child’s school achievement. This makes it an ideal time to guide parents toward better balance after the all-too-common summer screen-time binge.
As with almost everything in child rearing, the rules are not necessarily one-size-fits all: what works for one child (or family) may not work for another. Finding the ideal balance can take trial and error. As parents continue to grapple with setting appropriate parameters for kids, it’s not necessarily as simple as “no more than 30 minutes a day.”
Try sharing these tech resolutions with families to help them find a screen time balance to the new school year:
Make—and stick to—a plan. If you haven’t already developed a family technology plan, the start of school makes an excellent time to do so. Numerous trusted groups, including the American Academy of Pediatricsand Common Sense Media, offer templates to make this easy. Even if you already use a plan, find time to revisit it and consider—with your kids—whether the rules need to evolve. What is, and isn’t, working? Are kids old enough for additional/different privileges? Screen time plans need to change to stay effective.
Focus on quality. While quantity—such as daily/weekly time limits—still work for many families, not all screen time is created equal. As most experts now stress, 30 minutes spent creating something—art, stories, programming—isn’t the same as 30 minutes passively viewing YouTube videos. Emphasize the former—and consider allowing more leeway if the time gets well spent.
Make dinner time sacred. An oldie but goodie, dinner time should be offline time. Make conversation king at the table. In addition to building kids’ communication—speech, language, and social—skills and providing an unmatched, consistent opportunity for family bonding and connection, a host of other benefits are linked to regular family dinners. Technology is almost always a distraction—so no answering texts, emails, or Googleing. Everyone can hold off for those 30 minutes.
Keep bedtime use off limits. Another classic, but oft-ignored recommendation. Recent research from Common Sense Media found 68% of teens—and 74% of parents—now take their mobile devices to bed with them. Not only can this detract from beneficial bedtime activities such as daily reading, but it can interfere with adequate sleep—which is necessary for physical and mental health, as well as academic success.
Limit during homework time. This undoubtedly becomes more difficult as kids get older and assignments require online research. To that end, minimize technology as much as possible—and only to assist in homework. During homework time, discourage multi-tasking with social media or texting.
Get involved. Make tech use a group activity. Watch your kids play Fortnite or view videos from their favorite YouTuber with them. Ask questions. Show—better yet, have—interest. This not only keeps the lines of communication open and provides a chance to talk/bond, but it can moderate parents’ concerns about their child’s online time—i.e., it may not be as bad as you think. Conversely, it can be an early indicator of problematic content.
Elevate the conversation—Think beyond limits, rules, and restrictions. Again, these have their place, but encourage kids to think critically, for themselves, about how they use technology (risks/rewards) and help them appreciate and value offline time—both activities and relationships—prioritizing people over devices. Parents can’t monitor everything, especially as children get older. Talk about your expectations for being a good digital citizen and your family’s values, so they carry these along when they are at friends’ houses, on the school bus, and out in the world. Give them the tools to make good decisions.
A year or so back, I was sitting, catching up on reading mail one afternoon and i come across my graduate school alumni magazine. The topic that month was related to the use of technology in education. One of the articles talked about different types of careers that are developing in the field of education, that relate to technology. Really interesting. It got me thinking about my day-to-day work and the types of things that have happened over the past few years. How are we changing??
I avoid using technology at work, aside from some apps on my i-phone. Call me old fashioned; but, there really is a logical reason when you are interacting with young children. Why? there now is scientific evidence that the use of technology really impacts us. For example, this article from Scientific America might be eye opening for some https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/
One might poo-poo the article that I site in the previous paragraph since the article was written in 2013. Before YOU choose to do so, copyrighted in 2018 MaryAnneWolf writes the text Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. (yes – you CAN get it online at Amazon 🙂 )
Wolf continues the dialogue about the influence of technologic reading vs. tangible “book” reading. There are real differences that she suggests: the ability to critically think, reflect and being empathic. She even documents the neurology of reading and how our brains assists is with it (which I can’t give away – you will have to read her book!) and the fact that we don’t use the same aspects of neuroanatomy when reading online. The adage of “use it or lose it” may now be popping into your head. Scary isnt it. My conclusion was that reading a book may actually be a form of exercise for your brain. I myself wonder, is this going to be another addition to the recommended amount of aerobic exercise that we need to maintain health? Interesting rhetorical question or perhaps a “real one” to discuss at your next physical.
For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
Another question that I had in reviewing this information in preparing for a graduate student seminar being given to students studying the field of Speech-Language Pathology was what about adults? Who helps guide us in curbing use of technology so that it is used responsibly. After all, I would challenge my reader to make a list of 25 activities that you engage in during the week that do not involve battery operated devices. Can you? When I asked my students to do so, it was hard. Even the mundane task of grocery shopping in a “real” grocery store where you actually take a shopping cart, walk up and down an aisle and take items off of a shelf was not happening. By a show of hands, few students engaged in that task. No wonder we are becoming an overweight society!
With the above depressing news that has been documented – how technology is affecting our health, I dug up an article that may be of help. I will close with this and a request to consider how technology is affecting your life and how it is affecting the life of those around you. Consider how you can take care of yourself! https://www.rewire.org/living/adults-screen-time-limits/