The challenge of managing screentime is one of the greatest issues concerning parents today. How much is too much? How long should each age group be allowed on the computer, or on the device? How do I get them off without a fight?
But maybe a more important question parents should be asking of themselves, is ‘what are the different types of screentime my child is engaging in?’ And as such, ‘Is all screentime equal?’
To date we have tended to lump all time spent on screens and devices in the one (somewhat negative) basket. It seems however, if we are to help our kids better enjoy the benefits of technology whilst minimising the negative elements, then we need to think more purposefully about the types of screentime our kids are engaging in.
There is a big difference between sitting in front of a screen playing Angry Birds and perhaps writing a blog, creating a short film or recording a music track in Garageband. Not that there is anything wrong with playing a computer game or app. Games have their place for relaxation, stress release and for fun and entertainment. Passive entertainment such as watching Youtube videos may also be for entertainment or they may require participation in the form of an instructional video on how to make a paper plane or perform a magic trick.
There is also a difference between screentime that focuses on consumption and that which is based on creativity. Telling a child to get off the computer playing Minecraft or have them finish up their computer animated short film, only to go and sit in front of the television can at times make little sense. We need to recognise that being on a device or in front of a screen may involve interacting with others, it may be about following instructions and learning, it may be passively absorbing, it may be writing, creating, engaging in a community or a combination of them all.
Often parents get caught up in the ‘amount’ of screentime, whilst failing to recognise that there are vastly different ways the screens can be used and we cannot weight them all the same.
I think this is really important when we are looking at imposing limits on screen time.
Remember to be engaged with your child about some of the things they are doing, look at what is appropriate for the activity they are doing, and maybe you might find yourself rethinking some of those limits you have been trying so desperately to enforce.