Children And Screen Time: 3 Myths Exposed via @PatFurstenberg

What is that one valuable item you never leave home without? The one, if you are anything like me, you carry around with you from one room to the next as you move around through your own home? The one you keep within ear reach, even as you sleep.

Yes, it is the smartphone. If you would have only two minutes to leave your home, what would you take with you? What are your most valuable items, except for your immediate family? Is your phone included on the emergency list? Yes? Why so? Because it is a necessity.

The number of smartphone users in South Africa more than doubled between 2014 and 2018 and it is estimated that it will increase by an extra 5 percent by 2022, statistics show. However, the number of times Americans look at their phones each day remained constant during the past three years: 47 times.

The exception is the 18-24 years age group, that checks their phones 86 times per day. Only 16 percent of Americans check their phones within five minutes of waking up in the morning, a 2017 Deloitte U.S. consumer survey shows. Let’s face it; it is hard to resist a device that adds so much value to our daily lives in a way that no single device ever has been able to. Smartphones allow us, almost anytime and anyplace, to call, text, watch, listen, browse, shop and read!

Now think of your young child handling your smartphone; in a safe place where it can’t be dropped … Is the thought of making you anxious? Why so? Is it because your child can damage your mobile device, or because the smartphone can unsettle your youngster? What if we would turn around the image of a kid holding a smartphone and look at its positive side? Will it excite us to see how quickly our young children learn to use the latest technology? What if we shift our focus and look at digital technology as a tool to promote individual growth?

Not all digital media is great, and as parents, it is our duty to constantly monitor the quality of screen time our children are exposed to.

Let’s try to understand the three myths concerning children and their screen time exposure.

1. Screens are forcing children to live a passive life

So many TV shows and games to get kids up and moving, especially shows focusing on animals, friends sharing an adventure and providing learning opportunities. Emerging research shows that children enjoy taking part in active video games more than playing traditional games during physical education. Active screen time during preschool years also helps improves children’s cognitive skills and school readiness, increases their vocabulary and promotes social interaction, research shows.

2. Playing games distracts children from their education

A research conducted in 2018 “found changes in brain activity and increased performance on tests of visual selective activity in subjects who had spent one hour playing the League of Legends video game”. The research team assessed the participants’ visual selective attention before and after playing the game. The conclusion was that the expert game players had more brain activity associated with attention than the non-experts. The expert game players also scored better on the initial visual selective attention assessment.

What if we look at video games from an education perspective? What if video games can teach educators and parents more about our children’s cognitive learning? What if video games can be used to reduce exam stress and the time spent doing tests as well as the time used by the school in assessing the children? What if video games can help teachers focus on individualised learning? Can this be a new paradigm for education? Video games are well suited for individual learning, allowing students to learn at their own pace, under parental control. Games bridge the in-school and out-of-school learning and put the fun back in the study.

For example, the Mathematics Fluency Data Collaborative is a project is a G4LI project led by Carnegie Learning and in collaboration with Game2Learn at the University of North Carolina, the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center at Carnegie Mellon University, and PlayPower. Experts in mathematical education, cognitive skills, game design and data mining have created a platform for high-quality mathematics games to help students acquire the skills to succeed in mathematical problem solving through gaming.

3. Screens form a barrier between parents and their kids

The greatest benefit of screen time comes only when parents talk to their children about what they watch or the games they played. Screen time can be used as a tool to promote meaningful discussions, a springboard for teaching kids empathy. Empathy and compassion are the foundation of a happy, meaningful life, but they cannot be learned from a book; they must come from emotional situations, and this is where supervised screen time can help.

Not all digital media is great, and as parents, it is our duty to constantly monitor the quality of screen time our children are exposed to. Having a balance is also important, but we must acknowledge that we share the same world with our children, and information technology is a part of our lives.

As parents and teachers, we can raise our expectations about digital media, choose to talk to our children about its content, and show them why it matters and how to use it to their advantage.

First published on Huffington Post SA, 29 June 2018

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