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 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. Learn to code, write a story, learn to type
Alexandra Fung, CEO, Upparent
One silver lining to our extended time at home has been the opportunity to discover many great online resources that are available to kids and families for education and entertainment. With two parents working from home these last few months while caring for four kids, baby to teens, our family has certainly relied on screen time more heavily than we usually do. Fortunately, our tween and teen have, for the most part, embraced online activities that have allowed them to dive more deeply into their personal interests, as well as develop new ones – even some that they share!
Google Docs has long been a favorite way for them to spend time creating stories which they share with one another, and even co-author with friends as a great virtual playdate opportunity. The coding platform, Scratch, has also been a great resource for fun and learning, as they create fun games (that lead to lots of shared laughs!) and learn valuable coding skills in the process. Another favorite resource we recently discovered is Zooniverse, a platform that facilitates people-powered research so that anybody can contribute to real scientific research in a variety of fields. Finally, typing games have been a good way for both to develop crucial keyboarding skills using gameplay to make it fun, not work.
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. Use social media for good by joining like-minded groups and following positive people online
Shipra Batra, Founder, Shipra’s SAT and Creative Writing Classes, LLC
Telling your kids to not be on their devices is like fighting a losing battle. In fact, I will suggest you do not do that, as it will create more yearning for the digital goodies. The kids will be on their devices anyway, so why not turn it around on them. Based on their interests, make them join a social media group where they engage with like-minded people. Instead of forming an online community of gamers, encourage your kids to subscribe and like the channels and pages of their role-models. Nothing substantial, but at least they will be fed useful information which will also register on their subconscious. Something worthwhile shows up on their feed regularly, and over a period of time, they would have gained so much information, which can be used any which way they desire.
4. Help your child find a passion to focus on
Mateo Chaney-Martinez, Founder and CEO, Smart Start University
For parents who want to reduce their teen’s screen time—or at least encourage them to use it more productively—I recommend leading them towards passion, not away from screens. By emphasizing the benefit of passion, rather than highlighting detriment of screen time, parents are more likely to influence their teens towards positive and constructive actions.
In a more tangible sense, parents can engage their teens in a dialogue about what they want in life. Don’t ask them to be reasonable—explore what they would want to do if they knew they couldn’t fail. Whether that be what they end up pursuing or not, such unhindered discussions will reveal passions—and, if you can help your teen recognize and begin moving towards a passion, the reduced screen time happens naturally.
Don’t drive your teens away from screens. Drive them towards passion.
5. Listen to a podcast
Kitty Felde, Executive Producer, Book Club for Kids podcast
Use Your Ears! There are dozens and dozens of podcasts crafted just for kids of all ages. Science podcasts (Brains On), history podcasts (The Past and the Curious), ethics podcasts (Short & Curly), and literary podcasts like my own, Book Club for Kids.
Podcasts can be listened to on any device. They allow children to create their own pictures in their minds, sparking imagination. In addition, listening is a skill unto itself. Some of us are audio learners naturally, but for other kids, removing the visual stimuli allows them to exercise their ears.
6. Take online classes, virtual tours, or read a book digitally
Katie Mills, VP of Product, Circle
According to the CDC, teens spend on average 7.5 hours a day watching entertainment passively on screen. This time and attention could be spent learning a new skill or pursuing a creative passion. How can we steer our kids toward more creative and informative digital endeavors? There are plenty of ways to foster that passion with online classes, podcasts, apps, books, and virtual tours. Inspire your artist to draw digitally, your aspiring chef to learn from a master, and for all kids to spend their extra time online reaching their creative capacity.
7. 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!
8. 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.
9. 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!