Panic has been mounting in parents all across the globe over screen time in the pandemic. Research has shown links between excess screen time and poor diet and body mass outcomes, and studies have been published on the negative impact on mental health from social media. Parents everywhere have been anxiously clock-watching as hours have mounted up.
But a focus purely on hours is not always the most effective way to discuss digital use at home. Parents need to have a whole range of tools at their disposal. Curating the digital world for your children, selecting the content and activity they’re spending their time on, is a valuable tool to hone. Here are some tips on how to develop screen time curation skills this summer;
# Which platform?
Don’t let younger children make their own choices of apps to be active on. An innocuous-looking video platform like TikTok may not be so harmless. Always investigate thoroughly the data and privacy policies of any app your children want to use. TikTok, as just one example, has many question marks over it around its attitude towards child safety. It’s been banned in some countries and is under close investigation in others. This is one I would avoid for younger teens.
There are some excellent safer educational and entertainment, resources that are worth steering your children towards instead. BBC Bitesize is a particularly good learning resource and there are many ‘closed’ media platforms such as Azoomee which are also worth a look. Azoomee is a subscription-only service so there are cost implications, but it’s a very safe online platform of games, videos and activities. All content is specifically curated for kids by their in-house team of former teachers and children’s media experts.
#2 What activity?
There’s enough evidence now to show us that endless scrolling through social media isn’t doing any of us any good. Comparison culture with its emphasis on what people look like, rather than what they can do, is a toxic environment for a teen. Steer kids away from passive consumption of social media and towards actively creating online. Writing a blog, setting up a photography site, making and editing music, these are all highly creative uses of digital tools.
For older kids, point them in the direction of the hundreds of thousands of podcasts that exist on any conceivable subject. There is sure to be one about a subject, or a person, that they are interested in.
#3 Who to follow?
Much though you might try to steer your kids away from too much time on social media, of course they are going to be on it. Make sure the people they are following are good role models. Ask them to show you who they follow, and get them to tell you why they like them. Introduce a few alternative suggestions of people that promote activism, empowerment or raising awareness of a specific issue. Curating their social media feed in this way will lead to much more inspiring screen time. Michelle Obama, Malala and Greta Thunberg are just three suggestions to start with.
On YouTube, where kids increasingly spend most of their time, a whole new niche community of studytubers has grown up: YouTubers who post revision and exam tips and techniques. I’ve interviewed some of them for my podcast and they have excellent channels to subscribe to that would be a really good choice for screen time this summer.
How to manage screen time this summer
Remember that while there is definitely such a thing as too much screen time, you should be focusing your chats with your kids on what they are doing on their screens, rather than how much time they are spending on them. A quick checklist:
- Re-cap on basic screen time safety tips within the family. Keep accounts private, don’t share passwords, don’t give our identifying information, don’t accept friend requests from strangers. Cybercrime has boomed in lockdown. Make sure everyone of all ages knows how to stay safe.
- Configure parental controls on your home network and devices, block inappropriate content for younger kids.
- Discourage passive social media scrolling. Encourage teens to find people to follow whose focus is action rather than appearance.
- Explore uses of digital media for creation; music, video, writing and much more.
- Look out for ‘enclosed’ online platforms for the youngest kids, these let them try out their screen skills without exposing them to the whole of the internet.
For ideas on what to do off screens this summer. My book: Stop Staring at Screens is packed with activities and suggestions for all the family.