Thursday, 9 March 2017

5 Tips to Manage Passive Use of Screens

Some parents worry that technology is ruining their kids' childhood and in some cases, this may be true. At Tech Age Kids we take a different approach and seek to find ways technology can enhance creativity and prepare kids for a digital future.

Not all tech usage is equal. There is an element of technology that can have a negative impact on our kids' behaviour, social development and exposure to a variety of activities. We talk about the difference between passive and creative screen-time often at Tech Age Kids.

Long periods of passive consumption of digital media turns my kids into zombies. But they are still drawn to the activity as insects to a lamp. Allowing them to engage in a passive activity without guidance is not, in my opinion, helping them learn important tech skills.

Let's look at 5 ways to manage the passive use of digital media in family life. Every family is different and what works for us, may not work for you. It's really important to know there is a difference between passive and creative tech use and as parents we need to help our kids have a positive and useful experience.

  1. Charging station downstairs

    We have a "charging station" for all our devices downstairs in the kitchen living space. It helps our family to switch off from screen time at bedtime and also not fall into a trap of mindlessly scrolling through social media in bed.

    A charging station also means that we need to get up to fetch our devices when we want to use it. Our younger kids ages 6 & 8 know after they used their tablets, they get stored and charged in our "station".

    I'm hoping second time round to cultivate better habits for passive screen time in the evenings. I also have a teen, whom we didn't mentor the same on this specific matter, so he feels it's his right to have his mobile with him in his bedroom. He doesn't always make wise decisions to switch off from passive Youtube viewing late at night. I believe this behaviour is easier to manage when kids are younger where parents can help them form good habits and know when to switch off.
  2. Treat it as an activity

    Kids love watching all sorts of "junk" online - unboxing videos, watching others play games, playing repetitive mindless games. There isn't anything wrong with that per say, but it's not healthy for them to engage in those types of activities all the time. I know when I get distracted and my kids have engaged in a passive screen activity they turn into little monsters and need to be run around the garden a couple times before they return to being my kids again.

    So I give my kids the pleasure of these passive times on screens but limit the time they spend doing it. Decide what works best for your family. Communicate it with the kids, agree the time limit and then stick to it. If you have a virtual assistant like Alexa, (or an egg timer) you could set an alarm for the agreed time.
  3. Engage & talk about content consumed

    If your kids spend a lot of time consuming digital media, be that reading, looking at websites, playing games or watching videos make time to discuss the content. They may be learning about something really interesting. Or getting ideas for a next Minecraft build from a popular Youtuber.

    It may not always be practical, but watch the content with your kids. Show an interest in the digital media they are consuming. It will either give you peace of mind that their content consumption is harmless or it may open opportunities to discuss their choices. Make a habit of checking in with them every so often.

    The book Screenwise by Devorah Heitner provides some excellent guidance and ideas on mentoring our kids.
  4. Take a break - create screenless days / activities / interests

    It's good to take a break from constantly consuming digital media. Common Sense Media runs a challenge for families to have device-free dinners to allow a time without screens and digital distractions. We mostly have no devices at the dinner table and keep mobile phones at our charging station for bedtime.

    Find something that you enjoy as a family that doesn't require screens as the main activity, like forest walking or cycling or doing a craft together. Encourage your kids to develop interests or hobbies that don't require a screen most of the time.

    Decide to go for a whole day or weekend without using a screen. Often during school term time, we are so busy with other activities during the week that my kids can go for days without using their tablets.

  5. Be a good example to follow

    I have a love-hate relationship with my own tech. I sometimes can find myself lost in a world of scrolling through social media and before you know it 30 min have passed. I need to make a conscious decision to put my mobile down and be present. I think many adults are also still figuring out the impact of constant digital media consumption on our own lives.

    But our kids are watching and learning from us. This includes how we use our screens. Do they constantly see us scrolling and staring at screens? Are they experiencing screens as tools to do work or a distraction from spending time with their kids?

    As parents we want our children to have a healthy and positive relationship with technology, however, are you leading by example? If kids could make the rules on how parent's should use technology, what would they say?

Do your kids spend a lot of time passively consuming digital media? How do you manage your kids screen time? Do you have good tips to share with other parents? Join our Tech Age Parents group on Facebook to discuss issues and celebrate the good things of parenting kids in a digital age.

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