‘Screen time’. Is that a phrase you use in your home? It sure is in mine! Because in this day and age, ‘TV time’ just doesn’t work. Our kids are surrounded by a plethora of screens these days. And while all those screens serve their purposes, and can be great for educational purposes, or to keep in touch (or even to give mom and dad a much-needed sanity break), you have to wonder….how is all this screen time affecting our children??
In an effort to bring you the most up-to-date and relevant content possible, we reached out to someone who’s very knowledgeable on this subject, and asked her to share her tips with it. Meet Hannah Whaley, a computer scientist who works to educate young children and families about the appropriate use of technology in the modern-day household. The author of two adorable books for toddlers – Webster’s Bedtime and Webster’s Email – Hannah is passionate about educating young children on the importance of tech safety and appropriate electronics usage.
Read on as she shares her top screen time for kids tips, and enter to win one of 4 copies of Hannahs’ newest book, Webster’s Bedtime!
Screen Time and Kids: Welcome To The Digital Generation!
Have you noticed how children are drawn to technology like moths to a flame? It doesn’t seem to matter whether its a smartphone, tablet, electronic game or the TV – as soon as it lights up, then their eyes do too! They are also incredibly adept at using new technology. Have you ever watched a young toddler using a tablet for the first time? It’s fascinating to see how quickly they figure out exactly how to navigate around and find the features of interest to them. Portable devices (from laptops to remote controls) present a perfect world of buttons, lights, touch screens and interactivity for our little sensory learners.
In educational terms, this is why we now refer to current youngsters as the ‘digital generation’. They are growing up with technology all around them, like no others before them, and developing an innate understanding and familiarity of all things digital.
We are only just beginning to understand the long term effects of how this will change they way they think, act, learn and even sleep. More and more studies are now being done to investigate device use, screen time, and digital habits and attitudes in children. One of the first areas becoming widely reported and acknowledged is the connection between screen time and sleep.
Screen Time For Kids: What Exactly Is ‘Screen Time’?
Let’s start by discussing exactly what screen time is, before we look at what it means for your little one’s sleeping needs. Is ‘screen time’ just another buzzword for guilt-riddled parents to research on their iPads while their kids watch Frozen for the third time that day? It’s certainly not a topic your own mom or gran would have spent much time discussing, and it no longer means just the TV screen.
’Screen time’ refers to any time your child spends on entertainment activities that use a backlit screen – like the kind that come on tablets, many ereaders, smartphones, TVs, portable games consoles and others. Educational activities still count towards a child’s total screen time count for the day, as do video games, having the TV on (even in ‘the background’), electronic books, videos and other time spent online. Do a quick tally for your child for the last week – we will look at the recommended screen time allowance per age group in a minute!
Screen Time For Kids: Is It Bad For Sleep?
Using electronic media and devices to entertain children is both understandable and unavoidable in many ways. Lets be honest, sometimes it feels like the best way to buy some much needed quiet time! But is it bad for sleep?
Unfortunately, yes. It is becoming clear that there are some serious issues connected to sleep. Increased screen time for children under 3, for example, is linked to irregular sleeping habits. For all ages (even grown ups!), using devices with backlit screens before bedtime delays the release of the body’s natural ‘sleepy hormones’ (namely, melatonin), making it harder to fall asleep and making the sleep less refreshing overall. Additionally, TV shows and games for kids are generally designed to be fast paced, to hold children’s attention, but this makes the brain work hard to process the rapid information. This literally tires the mind, reducing the ability to function immediately afterwards – drained and cranky children are usually less willing to comply with bedtime routines!
For these and other important reasons, the World Health Organisation, American Academy of Paediatrics and others around the world recommend the following screen time guidelines:
- Under 2: No screen time for under twos
- Age 2-18: Two hours of screen time per day
Does that surprise you? Many parents find this advice overly simplistic and unattainable. However, study after study is showing that screen time has negative consequences for sleep, and if sleep is a priority in your home, it may be time to come up with a media use plan for the kids.
Screen Time For Kids: Tips For Managing Screen Time
Cutting out screen time altogether is not achievable for some homes, and may not be necessary or desirable. However, there are still steps that you can take to minimise the impact that electronics have on sleep:
- Set time limits
- Plan screen activities
- Make it a shared activity
- Devices in bedrooms
- Switch off as part of a night time routine
Simply being more aware of how much time is spent on screen based activities can lead to changes. Read up online about the issues so that you are informed, become conscious of how much time you and your kids currently spend on screens, and then choose a reasonable daily limit that will work for your family.
Get in control by planning activities in advance. That way you pick the best time of day, the type of activity, and the length of it. Avoid screen time directly before naps or bed, and vary the type of activity depending on your plans for the day. Save more intensive media like video games and TV for lazy days.
Change the type of screen time they are exposed to and maximise the positive benefits. Instead of TV being on in the background, make it time spent on educational apps or ebooks that you can do with them. Engaging with them slows down the fast-paced nature of the media as well as adding in some parental bonding time.
Think very carefully about allowing digital devices in bedrooms. TV’s in children’s bedrooms are on the decrease, but most of that viewing has switched to tablet devices. Mobile devices are more easily removed before bedtime, but you may want to separate digital entertainment and the sleep environment altogether. ‘Screen-free zones’ are recommended in the home.
Talk to your children about why spending time on electronic devices before bed is not a good idea. Make switching off all devices an important first step in your bedtime routine so that there is a ‘wind down’ period before sleep. Helping children to recognise that there is a time to ‘switch off’ may be a valuable skill to start teaching them from a young age.
Screen Time For Kids: Teaching Good Tech Habits, Right From The Start!
One of the things our team really likes about Hannah’s work is her emphasis on teaching “tech etiquette” and healthy tech habits from a very early age. As Hannah mentioned, we really are dealing with a new generational phenomenon as we birth our ‘digital babies’, but unfortunately, much of the research hasn’t really caught up. Google ‘toddler tv’, and what you’ll mostly find are articles admonishing you to turn the TV off and shield your toddler from screens as much as possible. However, Hannah has taken a unique approach with her books: she aims to teach young children how to engage in their digital world safely and moderately…and in our minds, that is a refreshing approach!
Hannah’s latest book, Webster’s Bedtime, does just that – it teaches toddlers, in a simple and effective way, about when tech use is appropriate, and when it isn’t. This is all communicated through the sweet little story about Webster, a very tired spider who’s finding it hard to wind down and fall asleep with all his brightly-lit, blinking devices around!
Enter To Win One Of 4 Copies of Webster’s Bedtime
Intrigued yet? If so, then take a minute and be sure to enter to win one of 4 copies of Webster’s Bedtime, shipped straight to your house – and each winning copy will be signed by the author herself, and include a short, personalized note for your family!
Here are the details:
- This giveaway will run from Monday, 4/20 through Monday, 4/27.
- Giveaway winners must be willing to provide a full name and a mailing address.
- This giveaway is open to entrants in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. only.
Hannah Whaley authors children’s picture books which introduce technology concepts from an early age through reading and stories.Based in Scotland, she is a computer science graduate that has always worked to combine education, technology and research. She began her career in educational technology, being named UK Learning Technologist of the Year in 2007, before moving into university library management in 2009. Her latest children’s picture book “Wesbter’s Bedtime” helps children learn about switching off from technology before bed. You can find out more about her books at www.borndigitalbooks.co.uk