Relax the Rules On Your Kids’ Screen Time

Many parents are concerned about the amount of time their kids spend in front of a screen. But is screen time really as bad as they say? Is it possible for screen time to be helpful and not hazardous?

Let’s start by acknowledging that too much screen time is not good for kids. There are plenty of studies on it, but suffice it to say that kids need so much more than time in front of a computer, video game, or phone.

That being said… as of this writing, we’re still in a pandemic and many kids have been shut inside for months. They need a brain break, and screen time can provide that.

Technology doesn’t have to isolate. It can bring people together, as it has done for all of us throughout this pandemic. And kids can learn to use it in ways that enhance their development. In 1996, acclaimed MIT professor Seymour Papert wrote a wonderful book that I still recommend today: The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap.

In the 1960s Papert invented the educational programming language Logo. He also invented something called “turtle graphics,” which lets kids draw shapes by programming the cursor, or “turtle,” with simple commands. (Fun fact: Turtle Logo was one of the programs that inspired my childhood interest in computers.) The main theme of The Connected Family is that computers can be a positive force in kids’ lives. It’s been decades since his research, but you can see the results today in kids’ robot-building STEM kits and Raspberry Pi projects.

So when you approach your kids’ screen time, think of it the way Papert would. No, that doesn’t mean overload them with boring educational software. It means let them explore. Let them experiment. Let them try new things.

Montessori educators refer to “freedom within limits” and I think this also describes how to approach Internet safety for kids. Of course we need to protect them, with good antivirus software and regularly updated computers and strong passwords. But within those limits, we should give them the freedom to discover.

Some people assume that video games isolate kids, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I think Minecraft is a perfect example of Papert’s viewpoint in action. Minecraft is a game of collaboration and worldbuilding, limited only by the kids’ imaginations. Roblox, Animal Crossing, and many other games are similar in that they allow players to express their creativity. Role-playing games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild offer fantastic vistas and exciting stories. In fact, today’s video games offer some of the best narrative tales you’ll find.

Video games also can be a wonderful way for families to spend time together. A rousing Friday evening session of Super Smash Bros can make for great stress relief and give you and your kids an opportunity to bond with one another. If you think you don’t like video games… well, I think video games are like books. There’s something for everyone.

Yes, there are real concerns about predators in online multiplayer games. You can mitigate that by using parental control software, monitoring your kids’ usage, and talking them about what to do if they feel uncomfortable online. Here are more articles from my Simple Tech Tips blog about Internet safety for kids.

So try relaxing the rules on your kids’ screen time. If you previously only let them have screen time on the weekends, maybe give them some during the school week, too. If you’ve set age limits on content, maybe consider letting them watch content geared for a more advanced age group. It’s so easy to forget that a once-six-year-old is now thirteen and can handle more mature content.

Common Sense Media is a fantastic resource for parents that offers ratings, reviews, and details on content, letting you make your own decisions about whether or not a video game, TV show, or movie is okay for your kids.

This article from Internet Matters has a great breakdown of the pros and cons of screen time for kids.

And if you and your kids would like to play with Seymour Papert’s turtle graphics, try the Turtle Academy site and experience Turtle Logo for yourself!

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