How to use screen time responsibly

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I am very much against the demonizing of screen time for children. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have it’s faults. Screen time can definitely have a negative impact on a child’s development, so it’s important to use it responsibly. Here are a few important things to consider when using screen time (these are really tips for little kids, but I would love some feedback from parents with older kids), and a few of my favorite apps:

Model!

Kids don’t learn to read just by having a shelf full of books. They need someone to read to them and model the correct way of holding it and associating the printed word with language. It’s the same with screen time. If you want them to use a certain app, you need to show them how to get to that app and what to do once inside. If you don’t want them watching Game of Thrones, then you need to show them how to access the kids profile on the TV. There is some benefit to letting them just push buttons randomly; my kids and students have unlocked tons of cool features on my iPad that I didn’t know about because they were just tapping things with reckless abandon, but ultimately, you have to model what you want them to do.

Engage!

The problem with screen time and child development usually stems from it being a very passive activity. We have this idea that it’s just a kid staring blankly at a screen while the world passes them by. I will readily admit that sometimes that is exactly what it looks like in our house, and sometimes it’s NEEDED to decompress, but often times we use the screens as an opportunity to engage. One of the most important steps in language development is joint or shared attention. Why can’t your attention be shared on the screen? When my kids are watching Sesame Street, we talk about what’s happening on screen, I ask them to identify the characters, make predictions, summarize, make connections to prior knowledge, etc. Those are all literacy skills that we are working on even when we’re not reading books.

My son playing an interactive Osmo game on his iPad

Moderate Content!

This is obviously super important. If you don’t want your child accessing something, don’t give them access. There are parental control options, and that’s not a guarantee that they won’t access something they’re not supposed to, but it helps a lot. Plus, if you are present with them and modeling and engaging, then there’s very little chance of them accessing something you don’t want. This isn’t just for moderating inappropriate content, it’s also for making sure they don’t charge you for something or send a gibberish text message to your boss. One time I freaked out that my Amazon account had been hacked because I got order confirmations for random things I didn’t order. Turns out my two year old had a conversation with Alexa, and that’s how I figured out that I needed to disable ordering from the device.

Make accommodations!

Get some blue light blocking glasses, restrict how high the volume can go, get them a stylus, have some apps that encourage physical movement. Screen time *can* have an impact on their health, so it is important to make accommodations. But TV and tablets aren’t the only things we need to make accommodations for. If you need to get up an move if you are an avid book reader. You need to wear hearing protection if you play certain musical instruments. You need to wear pads and helmets for certain sports. We shouldn’t stop doing all these activities because of their health risks, we just need to take precautions and do everything in moderation.

Some of my favorite apps for my kids:

Logos for some of my favorite apps

Proloquo2Go – This app is actually an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) app designed for people who have difficulty speaking. Both my kids can speak, but there’s no reason they can’t use other forms of communication. It gives them options when they can’t think of or pronounce a word, builds literacy skills as they see the symbol and text together, and teaches them that symbolic communication is valid so if they meet someone who communicates this way they will just accept it. It’s no different than teaching your kids sign language (which I also do). The app is pretty expensive, but it does typically go on sale for a few days in April and October, but it’s no more expensive, and most of the time cheaper, than baby sign language classes (not trying to discourage people from signing, though).

My son using Proloquo2go on his iPad. The message window says “stop stop stop…” on repeat

Touch and Write – Tablets are known to be the enemies of occupational therapists because they get kids pointing rather than going through the fine motor skills of writing and pre-writing. Touch and write really helps with that. It does just use your finger, but you can use a stylus to get more of a pencil grip feel. You can change the “pencil” so it looks and sounds like you’re writing with shaving cream or ketchup, which is great for my sensory child who loves messy things but hates touching them. My child refused to trace on paper until we started using this app.

Anti-stress – Relaxing Games – Ok, I realize the idea of a virtual fidget toy sounds dumb, and that’s basically what this is, but it really works! There are tons of super simple activities to do on this app that are really enjoyable and satisfying. Again this has the benefit of allowing my kid to meet his sensory seeking needs while not aggravating his sensory defensiveness. It’s also just a fun app for me to use!

Osmo games – We got the Osmo system for Christmas and I absolutely love them. If you’re unfamiliar, its a system that allows for the real world to interact with the virtual world. Kids create things in front of the tablet, and then their creations are “pulled in” to the screen. It can be expensive, but there are games for all age levels and it really is a great tool for engaging kids with screen time and also real world play.

Anything PBS Kids – PBS kids is great. Everything is free. Everything is educational. Everything is engaging. I don’t have youtube on my kids’ tablets, but I do have the PBS kids video app because I know exactly the type of content they can access. Anything that comes from PBS kids is good in my book!

My son using a stylus to draw all over my slides for a class I was taking.

What are some of your favorite apps? What tips do you have for managing screen time?

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