What is Quality Screen Time?
Did you know that not all screen time is equal? How do you make smart, informed decisions about your child’s screen time?
The uptick of Covid-19 cases has put us all on heightened alert, and caused a temporary closure of schools and other education institutions. Students are once again learning from home. The fact that this is even possible is a testament to the dramatic improvement in technology in the last decade, as well as the wonderful work of educators adapting their content to virtual classrooms and online platforms. However, technology is a double-edged sword. There were no iPhones until the 21st century, so naturally we are concerned about the effect devices have on developing bodies and minds.
In this article, we explore screen time – the good, the bad, and what parents need to know to make smart, informed decisions.
The Importance of Quality
There has long been debate about the impact of screen time on children’s language development, and this has accelerated enormously as devices have become more commonplace and integral to our lives. However, concerned parents should take heart from the results of a recent article in JAMA Paediatrics, which is a medical journal published by the American Medical Association.
The study’s authors set out to examine the links between three key factors: (i) quantity of screen use, (ii) quality of screen use, and (iii) language development. The study found that more time spent in front of a screen could have a detrimental effect on children’s language development. However, before you cry out that you already knew that and race to unplug your child’s laptop, consider the other main finding — high-quality screen time has a positive association with children’s language development.
So what is high-quality screen time and how can parents ensure that their children are experiencing it? Quality screen time is actually about two things: content and context.
Content should be well produced and of an educational nature. This may seem so obvious as to be unworthy of mention, but the simplified idea that all screen time is the same is so pervasive that some parents struggle to acknowledge the difference between time spent watching videos and doing quizzes on National Geographic Kids and time spent playing Roblox.
This is not meant as a criticism of Roblox or Minecraft or any of the other digital content so beloved of children. Time spent doing things that they enjoy is important for them. Nevertheless, many video games offer short term gratification and can be quite solitary activities, while engaging with high-quality educational content can help to boost language skills, develop new interests and encourage independent learning.
What about Context?
The solitary nature of activities like playing video games or watching Youtube videos on individual devices can also be harmful to the language development of youngsters. However, that is not to say that these activities are bad in and of themselves. Parental involvement can help to enrich these activities and transform them into quality screen time. With proper guidance, new vocabulary could be picked up along the way even when playing games and watching videos on a device. A whole range of topics not normally encountered in our day-to-day life could also be discussed and explored.
As such, parents should consider the importance of co-viewing. Co-viewing means that rather than sending a child to their room with a laptop, or plonking them in front of the TV to keep them occupied, parents are actively involved in their child’s screen time. This means sitting with them and actively discussing the content. Parents should ask questions about the material and assist children in their understanding of it. While educational content is the ideal, activities such as family movie night can be beneficial too. A family sitting down to watch a movie together, while discussing the plot and the motivations of the characters, is a great way for everyone to bond and unwind. In addition, children are exposed to both narrative and sentence structure through the plot and dialogue respectively. Even the simple act of enjoying movies together creates common bonds and shared experiences.
HBL and High-quality Screen Time
Considering the idea of quality screen time in the context of online classes should relieve the concerns of parents. When a child sits in front of a computer screen to attend an online lesson, they will be listening to a teacher who will explain and ask questions about the material. Furthermore, that material should be of the same (or at least a similar) quality to that usually provided by the school or enrichment provider.
Consider too, that there will be times when students complete work independently, either on paper or in workbooks, meaning that they’re not actually looking at a screen at all. Teachers will provide feedback on their answers, explaining the concepts that have led to them and providing further examples. In a sense, the teacher becomes the co-viewer, facilitating students’ understanding of all they see and hear. Their classmates, too, act as co-viewers. As they discuss answers, read together or analyse a text, they help to create an atmosphere conducive to social learning, which teachers will guide and manage.
Remember that not all screen time is created equal and that online lessons will benefit children in a way that Minecraft or passively viewing videos will not. If concerns about the increased amount of screen time remain, parents may wish to tweak the way children spend their ‘free’ screen time during this period. Focus on shared family experiences and high-quality educational programming instead of passive, individual digital activities. Alternatively, parents may wish to reduce ‘free’ screen time altogether in favour of outdoor family activities such as cycling or walking or indoor activities such as reading a book.
However you choose to manage the current situation, it is important to acknowledge that not all time spent in front of a screen is wasted or harmful. Digital learning is here to stay and the use of technology as a learning tool will remain a big part of our future. It is up to us as parents and educators to ensure that learning takes place effectively and is maximised in this rapidly advancing technological environment. With the right content and the right context, screen time can be effectively transformed into a learning experience that is beneficial to a child’s language development both in school and at home.
James Patterson has been working as an educator in Singapore since 2014 and teaches at LCentral’s Bukit Timah. He has a sound understanding of phonics, and over the years he has helped many children on their journey to becoming independent readers. James understands the pressures and difficulties of the MOE English syllabus and strives to inspire each of his students to reach their potential. He is passionate about the importance of regular reading and the role it can play in the development of young learners’ vocabulary, grammar and writing skills.