Healthy vs. Unhealthy Screentime: What's the difference?

Imagine a world where a child can be amused all day by simply looking through a window. A window where they can be immersed in the storylines of passersby, making them laugh and keeping them happily entertained. Is screen time the modern-day window?

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Typical screen time devices include; a mobile or tablet device, home computer or television; and as a parent going through lockdown with your child, you’ll be forgiven for admitting to putting your loved one down in front of one of these; whether it’s to get work done, do your daily household tasks or to gain a minute of peace to collect your thoughts.

The question many of us ask is; is this something we should feel guilty for? Is this something we need to begrudgingly ‘admit’?

As ‘lockdowns’ across the world have put nearly 1.5bn students out of school and put their development into the hands of parents, screen time has gone up accordingly. The UK Office of National Statistics has reported that nearly 80% of parents, young adults and teenagers have used screen time as a key coping strategy. Whether that be video calling friends, participating in online events or just connecting via social media.

The age of a child is a well-discussed aspect on the matter of screen time, as their young brains are like sponges and in the peak of their development. Therefore it would be fair to say that the definition of “healthy” screen time is simply a consideration of elapsed time of content, dependent on the age of the child. However also an important consideration for “healthy” screen time is the interaction between parent and child.

An embracing insight on screen time has been made recently in UK media by Annabel Rosenhead, a psychotherapist who’s co-authored Happy Confident Me with parenting coach Nadim Saad.

Rosenhead spoke about how screen time during lockdown can have a healthy impact on family life, stating:

“From dancing together, following routines you’ve found on TikTok, to gaming, shared screen time can really help families to boost connections”.

She reinforced further by saying:

“It used to feel like a child would bury themselves away in their room with a screen, but now you can share screens anywhere and you can choose together what you want. Even with small screens, it’s about finding out what children are interested in and exploring it together.”

Nearly 7 out of 10 parents believe that screen time gives kids another way of being creative, so what is unhealthy screen time and how can we avoid it as much as possible?

A study by JAMA Pediatrics suggests that unhealthy screen time ‘appears’ from overuse of media and screens, which could hinder a child’s language development and communication skills. 

Interestingly though, the same study concluded that while overuse of screens leads to unhealthy screen time, the same amount of screen time with meaningful parental supervision and curated content can have a positive impact on a child’s development. Both mentally and emotionally. 

So, how do you ensure your child gets as much ‘healthy’ screen time as possible? 

  • Find out what your child is interested in doing online and explore it together. This will open doors to bond with your child as well as to guide and teach them how to make the most out of their screen time.
  • Discuss online risks and how they can protect themselves. Help them understand the risks, as well as the benefits, of using the internet. Guide them on what they can do to protect themselves or avoid certain situations. Unfortunately, cyberbullying and the ease of which inappropriate content can find its way on their browsing sessions are too real. 
  • Encourage active use of digital tools. Guide them in avoiding the trap of mindless scrolling and how they can be critical of the things they consume online. Encourage them to explore and discover apps and websites that develop their skills and feed their passions.
  • Create screen time rules and schedules. Don’t just set the rules for them, get them involved in creating them and start a conversation on why real-life socialising, family time and prioritising sleep are important. This will help them make smarter choices.
  • Practice what you preach! Sounds cliche, yes, but we can’t stress enough how important having your own screen time be a good example is. Kids tend to model their behaviour based on their parents’ after all.

In the end, the typical question of healthy vs unhealthy screen time offers alternating answers, depending on these two aspects; how old is the child? And; how are you, as a parent, involving yourself?

For a more in-depth recommendation on managing your child’s screen time, check out Internet Matters. The team over there have put together a few fantastically curated tips, specific to a child’s age group!

P.S.:  

If you want something new your kids can use as a tool for more healthy screen time, check out our Games Designer Club. An online hub for kids to learn about games design & make their own games! Or, use the Arcade Coder to combine screen time and hands-on play while developing their coding skills and playing as a family.