As parents, we worry about many things when it comes to our kids. I could list them here, but there's too many of them. One of them is screen time. Is it good, bad, or something else? Is all screen time bad, or is there positive screen time too?
In this blog post, I'll look at what are the issues with screen time. You'll read about the various reasons why screen time can be bad for our kids. But I'll also explore the different types of screen time and look at how now all screen time is bad. Some of it is good and beneficial for our kids. Indeed, kids who don't get some positive screen time may end up at a disadvantage. Coding for kids is one of those areas which is essential and which needs a screen.
Active and Passive Screen Time
Consider the following three children
Matt spends 30 minutes watching cartoons on TV
Sophie spends 30 minutes playing a video game
Zahra spends 30 minutes coding
All three kids have spent half an hour in front of a screen. That's 30 minutes of screen time clocked by each one.
However, the type of screen time is very different. Watching TV is passive screen time. The brain largely can switch off. Even their imagination takes a break as watching TV doesn't leave much for the mind to fill in. This doesn't mean watching TV is always bad. Kids need a break and some entertainment from time to time. But passive screen time is the kind of screen time often referred to when we hear that we should limit it for our kids.
Let's jump to Zahra, who spent time coding, hopefully using Python! Although Zahra also spent half an hour in front of a screen, her brain was very engaged and active. Her screen wasn't doing anything by itself. Zahra had to do all the work, and that work needed lots of thinking, imagination and problem-solving. This is active screen time. And very active screen time indeed. This type of screen time is positive screen time as the screen acts as a tool for learning and training the brain.
How about Sophie, who spent time playing a video game. This activity is harder to put into a clear category as it's somewhere in between the very passive TV watching and the very active coding. Playing video games is active—the child's brain is working, and depending on what type of game they're playing, they could be practising motor skills, coordination skills, and problem-solving skills. However, the video game is doing quite a bit, too, making this less active than a purely academic activity. Some video games also pose other problems is used excessively, but that's a different topic.
Not all screen time is the same, and parents who do not distinguish between active and passive screen time, or negative and positive screen time, may be denying their children the opportunity to learn specific skills that need a screen.
The Technology Factor
Another aspect to consider when deciding on whether to allow children to have screen time and how much they should have is the role of technology in today's and tomorrow's world. Unlike our generation, us parents, who grew up with less technology in our society and less reliance on it, today's world relies on technology. Our children need to know how to use technology effectively and safely, and they also need to learn the tools so that they're ready to create technology in a few years as adults.
Although not all technology needs a screen, a lot of it does. Positive screen time can and should include children learning how to live in a technological society.
Eyes, Neck and Back
There's one other issue that affects all types of screen time, both positive and negative. This is the physical factor. Screen activities require kids to sit down and be physically passive, often looking at a screen that is less than an arm's length away.
Let's start with the eyes. When using phones, tablets, and computers, we're looking at a bright screen that's relatively close to us. Eyes are at their most relaxed when looking into the distance. Screens are not distant. Best practice is to look in the distance for a short while every so often to give your eyes a break from looking at a nearby screen.
Looking at screens can even have other effects on the eyes. So even if kids are doing positive screen time, too much of it will still affect the eyes. There's also been more research recently on the impact of blue light emitted by screens and its effect on sleep. So screen time close to bedtime is best avoided, even if it's positive screen time.
Working on screens affects posture. Sitting down for a long time means that kids are not physically active. Active screen time is only active for the brain, not for the legs! Things can get worse if kids are not sitting properly to work on a laptop, say. And tablets and phones have yet another physical effect—we're often looking down when using these devices, and our neck needs to hold our heavy head from flopping down!
Different parents will make different decisions on how much screen time their kids should be allowed. But not all screen time is the same. Active screen time should be treated differently from passive screen time, and the two categories should not be lumped together. And even positive screen time needs to come with breaks!