Proudly sporting their “I am a digital citizen” stickers, Shorecrest students gathered during this Digital Citizenship week to share ways to protect themselves and demonstrate Shorecrest values online. Daily, we send our students into the virtual world to conduct research, collaborate with peers across oceans, and take action to improve their communities. Students reinforce their math skills using engaging math games online. They build online Portfolios to demonstrate their learning. They create movies, websites, and other virtual products to share their knowledge. They challenge teachers to constantly evolve their practice to reflect the changing world.
In short, technology is transformative.
Yet, parents and educators - anyone, really, with a genuine concern for the developing brains of young children - have long expressed concerns about the negative impacts of screen time. There is evidence that screen time leads to decreased attention spans and may even quite literally shrink the brain. It’s inarguable: We need to be raising children who seek to nurture relationships in the “real world,” relish unstructured time for outdoor and imaginative play, and engage their curiosity by building and creating.
At their best, screens are windows into new worlds to explore. At their worst, screens are mind-numbing distractions that drag our children away from the real “work” of childhood.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve handed my two-year-old son an iPad in order to get dinner on the table and not have to repeat “Ouch, hot!” one more time as he moves precariously close to the electric burners. It became blessedly calm and quiet in my kitchen as he dragged the jellyfish-shaped puzzle piece into the corresponding slot.
Yet, the oasis created by the iPad comes with a healthy dose of “parent guilt.” I am keenly aware of how, each time I include a screen in our activities, I am modeling how we learn, entertain ourselves, and interact. Maybe you’ve felt the same way. This dilemma keeps me up at night (or maybe that’s the blue light emanating from my iPhone).
A quick google search for “how to limit screen time” brings up some questionable advice. “Declare text-free zones.” “No screens on Sundays.” “30 minutes a day and no more.” Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that these kinds of arbitrary rules are not sustainable. If anything, it only makes screen time more desirable. Furthermore, as parents, it sets us up to have to walk back on our pronouncements more often than we’d like to admit.
Imposing balance doesn’t work. Teaching balance does. Here are some ways you can help your children become mindful users of technology.
Ask, Don't Tell
When your daughter is stuck in the car with you on the way home from school, ask her how much screen time she thinks is healthy. Even if she gives you an absurdly high number, resist the urge to scoff. Keep asking her questions to help lead her to a more reasonable number. You’d be surprised how much more mindful she will become when she’s done some real thinking about the issue.
Give yourself grace
When a rainy day has your kids stuck inside, or the whole family has caught “the bug,” you’ll be glad that you don’t have to stand by an arbitrary screen time limit.
Not all screen time is created equal. If your son is learning to draw using YouTube tutorials, that activity engages the brain in a more authentic way than playing Plants vs. Zombies.
Invite them offline
Prepare for the witching hour and set out invitations to play. Try these suggestions for sensory play or put together some busy bags. Involve your children in your hobbies - baking, hiking, tennis. Go on a neighborhood scavenger hunt for interesting bugs. Get messy.
Walk the walk
Be honest with yourself about your screen-related habits. Practice putting your phone away at the dinner table and intentionally spending more time interacting face-to-face. Every time you check a text message while your child is in the middle of a story, you send a message that counters hours of well-intentioned advice. This is nothing revolutionary, but it bears repeating: Your actions are the most powerful lesson on how to be a person that your children will even learn.
Digital citizenship, character education, and the Core Values of Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Knowledge and Compassion are embedded into all facets of the Shorecrest curriculum. Visit our campus to learn more.