As parents and educators, we know that screen time can be a double edge sword. When students use online resources to help them with a school project – that’s productive. On the other hand, when students use screen time to bully others – that’s negative. So, how can we teach students to use screen time productively way while setting limits on screen time that has no value?
We asked a few experts to share their best tips on how students can use screen time productively.
1. Teach your children to complete important tasks before spending time on screens
Elyse Hudacsko, Author
During the year, when kids are busy with school and extracurricular activities, there is very little time to be zoned out on their phones for more than a few minutes in the car.
But over the summer, there is freedom and lack of structure and kids tend to want to fill a lot of it with their cell phones, tablets, and laptops. While some of the uses of technology are great to help students learn and grow, there are plenty of other uses that provide absolutely no value and should be limited.
In an attempt to keep your child’s summer free and unstructured, avoid implementing technology “rules” or “tracking”, instead set technology “guidelines”. This allows using screen time productively as opposed to a pass time while letting kids be in charge of how they spend their time.
In my house, I have asked that 85% of their day spent on things that help them grow. Activities like being out in nature, creating, doing something physical, taking care of themselves and others, engaging with friends, learning, and just being. This would be ten hours per day, five which can be spent using technology and five that are spent without.
Some of the ways parents can encourage their kids to use technology productively are:
- Using a drawing app
- Making a video
- Taking an online class
- Facetime with a friend
- Talking to a friend on the phone
- Watching a movie or TV show with friends or family
- Exploring on a topic that interests them (videos, articles, groups),
- Playing brain games
- Listening to music
To avoid hearing “I’m bored”, here are some suggestions for how kids can spend their technology-free time:
- Going for a walk
- Going to the beach
- Doing art on paper
- Building projects
- Walking or hiking
- Organizing their room
- Getting together with friends
- Writing to their penpal
- Reading a book
- Taking a class
- Playing a game
- Doing a puzzle
The other 15% of their day, which equates to about two hours, can be spent on activities that do not provide any growth value like social media, most games and YouTube videos, and watching TV shows alone in their room.
I also ask that before my kids pick up any technology that they:
- Make their bed
- Get dressed (unless it is an agreed pajama day)
- Eat breakfast and clean up
- Straighten their rooms
- Take care of any laundry
And, I have tried to get them into the habit of asking “What else could I be doing?” before they absentmindedly pick up their phone.
These guidelines have been a win-win for me and my family and if you adapt them to your own beliefs about technology they can be a win-win for your family too!
2. Help your child find the purpose to their screen time so they stop using it as a pastime
Josh Ochs, SmartSocial.com
Teach your students to use social media to show off their school projects, hobbies, volunteer work, or family photos. When kids see that they can use screen time in a positive way, they are less likely to waste time using it aimlessly. Consider working with your student to determine 3 things they want to be known for when colleges or employers search for them online.
Sit down with your child and have them make a list of any school projects, volunteering activities, or internships they want to showcase online. For parents of children younger than 14, work with them to create a repository of their achievements that they can one day share on social media. Save positive photos, project descriptions, relevant links, and teacher recommendations in a folder — this will become content they share on social media when they’re ready.
3. Meet your kids where they are rather than telling them what to do
Laura Braziel, MMFT, LPC, LMFT, Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
Parents should examine their own screen time first: Parents set the example in their home through their actions. If a parent spends significant amounts of time behind a screen, be it for work or entertainment, what is observed by their kid will set a standard for the role of screens in that home. If there is very little family engagement, it doesn’t offer much motivation for a kid to put away the screen since the screen fills the gap in time.
Balance face-to-face time with virtual time: I encourage parents to assist their kids in balancing face-to-face social interactions with virtual interactions. The more time kids are on screens, the less social skills they develop and the lonelier they can become. Screen time could be useful for school work, planning activities, and some entertainment, but there needs to be a healthy balance of in-person experiences too whether it be family meal times, weekend outdoor activities, or friend get-togethers.
Set up parental controls and talk about them: Parental controls are a healthy safety precaution on devices, but if parents don’t also talk about the various influences and temptations out there and the reasons for setting up parental controls, kids may view the controls as simply a “control tactic” and therefore, may rebel. Setting up controls is a great opportunity to talk about the process of building trust and responsibility with screens and outside influences. As trust and responsibility are gained, controls can become more flexible.
Ask questions: I strongly encourage parents to engage in screen time with their kids and ask how the apps, games, etc. work and why their kid enjoys them. This is an example of meeting your kid where they are rather than just trying to tell them what to do. This gives you insight into their perspective so you have more influence later.
Keep conversations open-ended and ongoing: Above all, I strongly encourage parents to respect the opinions of their kids and keep conversations open on all topics. Screens have the power to expand experiences and if kids are not emotionally ready, those experiences could negatively impact them. When parents initiate and maintain an open dialog, they are in a better position to influence and intervene as necessary.
4. Use screen time to promote creativity rather than consumption
Doug Brennan, Parenting and Safety Expert with Kiwi Searches
Use screen time to promote creativity rather than consumption. There are some great coding apps that can be used to develop critical thinking skills, foster creativity, help with math skills, build an aptitude for organization, and problem solving abilities. Coding is a highly desirable skill set, and apps like Treehouse, Mimo, Spritebox and Tynker allow you to build websites, apps, build puzzles, automate tasks, and get ready for your dream job.
Setting parental controls to block adult content from your child’s smartphone or tablet can be done easily and for free with an add on filter. This can be done directly from Chrome or sites like YouTube which need restrictions with how easily accessible video content is in your child’s hands. For more hands on monitoring and to access to your child’s social media messaging, GPS location, and setting screen time, use a parental control software.
Screen time does not need to be a waste of time for kids, this is especially true when they know how to use screen time productively. When parents show their kids how to have a purpose on social media, create instead of consume, prioritize screen time with offline activities, and maintain an open dialog they will naturally begin to use screen time productively.
How do you teach your kids to use screen time in a productive way? Let us know in the comments below!