Whether it’s sitting in a car, eating at a restaurant or hanging out at a family function, it’s not unusual to see children playing with their cellphones. Schools are the same: most classrooms are equipped with tablets and computers as students work collaboratively using Google Drive and various other apps to do their homework.
And while school councils across the country host fundraisers to enable them to purchase technology, not all people believe screens should be in the classroom in the first place.
Former Microsoft CEO and co-founder Bill Gates reportedly didn’t allow his children to have cell phones until they were teenagers, and late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs also limited his kids’ screen time. Many in the tech industry, particularly in Silicon Valley, are turning to tech-free schools, allowing their children to learn traditionally.
There are many reasons to limit screen time, argues Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). In addition to higher obesity rates and lower self-esteem, kids who spend too much time on screens do poorly at school. SickKids’ AboutKidsHealth program advises that there are also physical and mental signs when children have spent too much time in front of a screen, including headaches and back pain, as well as being tired, sad, lonely or aggressive.
According to The Canadian Paediatric Society and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), children under 2 should not have any screen time, while those 2 to 4 should be watching screens less than an hour a day. Children and teens 5 to 17 should have a recommended maximum of “two hours a day of recreational screen time.”
In today’s world, decreasing screen time is difficult, particularly as children seem to be surrounded by technology – in cars, at school, and even at daycares and after-school programs.
The Canadian Paediatric Society suggests four “Ms” when it comes to screen time: minimize, mitigate, be mindful, and model.
You are the parent, and until your child has purchased his or her own cell phone, you’re in charge. Minimize the amount of time your children are using screens to the recommended levels – or less. Encourage your child to use their imagination, bring colouring books and toys for car rides and to restaurants, and have children play together at family functions.
By understanding the possible negative side effects of screen time, including being withdrawn or fearful, you can talk with your children to help them understand what they are feeling and why. More importantly, you can help them decrease their screen time and lessen its impact.
Don’t let children watch TV or play games alone. Sit with your children when they’re using screens to see what they’re playing and watching (particularly ads, which are often not child-friendly), and discuss what you’re seeing with them. Be prepared to delete games, particularly free ones, or set higher parental controls to ensure age-appropriate content.
Finally, model good cell phone etiquette, so they understand your expectations. Don’t bring your cell phone to the table and turn phones off when you’re engaging with your children. Make sure your kids know that their presence and conversation is more important to you than your social media feed.
It’s also worth remembering that, if used wisely, technology isn’t a bad thing. Gates has written and spoken about the importance of technology in the classroom, particularly in helping teachers help students succeed. In a blog post from April 2016, Gates notes that when he talks to teachers, they’re concerned they don’t have the tools they need to help students become successful.
“I’m optimistic that all of us who are passionate about education can solve this problem,” Gates writes. “One of the main reasons I’m so hopeful is that advances in technology will make it easier to give teachers the support they deserve.”
Technology will also help our children succeed, as the jobs of the future will likely involve computers, as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). The only way children will learn those skills is if they know and use technology – in moderation.
Lisa Day | Contributing Writer