Digital Parenthood: Balancing Your Childrens Screen Time – By Mike Spry

The wonder of childhood is complemented by an insatiable thirst to indulge in imagination. It has been parents’ eternal struggle to find harmony between tempering and cultivating that imagination and maintaining a healthy balance between vehicles for fantasy and healthy childhoods. It wasn’t that long ago that children were scolded for reading under the covers late into the night. Soon after, radios tuned to distant signals would whisper in kids’ bedrooms to their parents’ frustrations. My parents struggled to reduce TV time, as tears
and tantrums would accompany black screens, and fueled desperate bargaining for ten more minutes of something, anything, the world of impossibility in a magical black box? For generations that followed, it was video game consoles that needed to be policed, with parents fighting losing battles against late nights and distraction.

The digital age has provided children with a wealth of modes by which to satiate their imaginations, and much of that technology comes with warning labels, both literal and cultural. Today’s parents have an ever growing amount of screen time to control. Between our televisions, tablets, smartphones, laptops, and desktops, there’s no shortage of digital entertainment to capture our kids’ attentions. But does anyone know the recommended
or acceptable amount of screen time for our children? Conjecture and hysteria have coloured the digital landscape in a gray hue of misinformation and uninformed assumptions. Comic books, radio plays, TV shows, and video games did not corrupt previous generations, so why is the current digital landscape stigmatized?

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology prescribes no more than two hours of screen time per day for children 5 to 11 years of age. This is in agreement with numerous other studies and agencies tasked with studying children and their health in a digital reality, including the Canadian Pediatric Society and the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. The reality is that Canadian children spend, on average, 7.5 hours per day in front of one screen or another according to the Canadian Health Measures Survey and Statistics Canada. Even the staunchest proponent of digital babysitting would have to agree that a work-day worth of screens is excessive. So how do parents find balance, and how do they use digital media to inform their child’s other activities?

There is a definite balance parents should attempt to find for their kids’ digital indulgences, but the technology can be used to encourage more traditional down time. There are healthy and creative benefits to digital entertainment. After all, screens are about information, and information informs intelligence, which is how our kids grow. What parents need to do is harness the technology and exploit its possibilities.

Tablet and video games aren’t just mind numbing time-killers. Apps and games, when researched by both parents and children, can teach lessons in strategy, problem-solving and cooperation skills which have practical, real world applications. They also exercise our brains, stretching and building our mental muscles. Digital technology also provides a platform for creativity and ingenuity. Sitting around and watching YouTube videos is a exercise in couch potato futility, but encouraging and supporting your kids in making their own videos is a way for them to engage with technology, use their imaginations, and
develop skills that will be useful as they journey into adulthood.

Tablets, smartphones, and computers can also be a porthole to discovering non-digital activities. Parents should help their kids search online for literature, board games, and outdoor activities that families can enjoy together. In using digital resources as a vessel for exploration, parents and children alike will find themselves engaging with the world on multiple levels, and facilitating growth and resourcefulness, skills that will be of use in school, at work, and at play.

The very practice of establishing screen time boundaries and rules can have applications beyond regulating digital conveniences. By setting standards with your kids, you’re creating a template for future conversations. Ensuring maintenance of agreed upon statutes of screen time breeds responsibility and accountability. This is a participatory enterprise, a pursuit that creates a sense of authority and autonomy in the household. Screen time law will make future discussions about curfews, bullying, and positive friendships easier because a sense of trust and collaboration have been ingrained in the family model.

There is no greater challenge than raising a child, and with each generation comes new obstacles that further complicate the endeavour of parenting. Today’s mothers and fathers have more technology in their pockets than their parents had in their entire home. That technology has the power to both corrupt and elevate children—it can be a parent’s best friend and worst enemy, the answer to, and cause of, innumerable issues in a child’s life. What today’s parents must do is discover contextual solutions that best fit their family’s dynamic, needs, and reality. What works for one child is not necessarily the blueprint for another’s.

The infancy of digital media means that we’re also in the earliest days of digital parenthood. Our children are best served when parents educate themselves in order to inform their decisions. Understanding the benefits and deficiencies of technology is paramount to a successful household. Television and video games did not corrupt a generation, so why coddle this one in fear of tablets and smartphones? Balance is attainable, and both you and your child will profit from the realities of a digital age. Moderation and common sense are easy to preach, yet difficult to establish. Fortunately, there’s probably an app for that.