How To Manage Kids And Screens
By Mark Pattison – Many of our children have been staring at screens since March as they, their classmates and their teachers all figured out how to do distance learning on the fly.
And even now, once the school day is over, the same devices that might have been used for distance-learning are likely used for entertainment, be it TV, movies or video games—and maybe a little bit for homework.
Today, kids are looking at screens for long periods of time. But screens can be like sugar-coated cereal: they are only one part of a complete and nutritious breakfast.
The organisation Children and Screens (www.childrenandscreens.com) talked to a dozen top professionals on how to better manage children’s screen usage—particularly in the more impressionable years between pre-school and Grade 8—and came back with many tips:
– Create screen-free zones. As a family, agree on times and places during the day when you will just be together, without the disruption of checking your screen. Those can include meals, bedtime, game time and walks.
– Pick and choose. While structure is important, worried children may benefit from daily “choices” to help them feel like they can still maintain some sense of control, especially when everything around them seems chaotic.
One example: Tell them it’s time to play a game, but they can choose which one. If that doesn’t work, offer them one of two options.
– Walk it out. Schedule some breaks that involve physical activity and fresh air. Go for a walk, bounce a ball, skip rope; the possibilities are endless when it comes to having fun and connecting with your child. Just make sure to follow social distancing guidelines whenever you leave the house.
– Mix it up. Treat your child’s mind with respect and kindness by mixing up the day with activities that’ll challenge different parts of their brain, such as reading vs math. Monitor your kids for signs of fatigue, increased irritability, distractibility and fidgeting, and take breaks for physical activity when necessary.
Often, screen use only stimulates the visual and auditory part of the brain, ignoring smell, touch, taste and temperature. What the brain doesn’t use winds up growing less developed, so varied activities and challenges will help your child develop all of their senses.
– Listen with your eyes. Non-verbal behavioural cues such as a shrug of the shoulders or a furrowing of the brow can provide helpful information about a child’s understanding of the content being shared with them, be it school homework or a life lesson at home. Ask your child what’s not being understood, and renew your effort to help the child understand.
– Do your best. Off-screen activities are great, but you won’t always have the mental capacity to support non-screen tasks, and that’s totally fine. Sometimes you may need to let your kids have a little extra television time. Just be sure to find media you trust and keep an eye on what your kids are watching.
– Get physical. Make digital technology work for you. If you have a streaming music service, have a dance party with your kids. There are also free and subscription-based apps that have family fitness content to provide fun and engaging ways to interact and exercise as a family.
– It’s OK to be bored. The next time your child complains to you about being bored, don’t just thrust a screen at them. Instead, let them sit with their boredom, and maybe even join them.
When not actively engaged in a specific task, our brains are doing important work. Neuroscientists call this the default mode of brain functioning, and it’s linked to important skills like self-awareness and empathy.
So let them get bored. Their developing brains will thank you.—CNS
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