The belief that screen time IS ROTTING OUR KIDS’ BRAINS AND BODIES is getting a do-over.
In the months leading up to and particularly during the pandemic, parents, physicians, and researchers have increasingly gravitated toward a more nuanced message that can be both comforting and confusing: screen time or technology can be both beneficial and detrimental to children. It is dependent on the situation.
Dr. Colleen Russo Johnson, a child development expert and mother, believes that it is long past time for society to move away from extreme and unrealistic views of children’s screen time. “It is long past time,” she says. There are few absolutes when it comes to what children should and should not do when it comes to technology and media, she explained to me in an interview. Furthermore, it would be beneficial if caregivers were not made to feel judged regardless of their choices.
Dr. Russo Johnson told me, “We have to stop thinking about this as a black-and-white issue.” “You don’t want your children to be glued to their screens all of the time. “That is just common sense,” she stated emphatically. “However, these things are not inherently evil. A great deal of variety exists, and not everything is created equal.”
Dr. Russo Johnson is the co-founder of a children’s media and technology company, so she stands to gain if parents believe that screen time is appropriate for their children. However, she is one of many people who are calling for a rethinking of the notion that spending time with technology is a bad thing.
In her opinion, Dr. Russo Johnson’s extreme messages about children’s technology have been particularly harmful for parents who may find that allowing their children screen time is the best option for them. It’s possible that playing outside is not an option or is unsafe, and some parents require their children to be seated in front of a screen while they juggle work and other obligations.
Dr. Russo Johnson stated that during the pandemic, “everyone experienced that reality for a brief period of time.” As a result, more parents and researchers are acknowledging that it is not always clear what constitutes a “healthy balance” for children when it comes to screen time.
In order to move beyond the belief that screen time is TURNING YOUNG PEOPLE INTO MONSTERS, we must first find a more agreeable middle ground. Dr. Russo Johnson provided some suggestions for parents to consider when it comes to screen time — although these are not rules. There are no rules in this game! “How does this particular device or screen, technology, or feature enhance or detract from the experience?” she suggested as a question for parents to consider.
When it comes to digital media and technology, Dr. Russell Johnson says that caregivers should look for digital media or technology that encourages younger children to be creative and participate in activities away from the screen, such as going on a scavenger hunt or dressing up based on onscreen prompts.
Young children are encouraged to explore open-ended games without much instruction in Toca Boca and Sago Mini apps, which she finds to be particularly appealing. Using the OK Play brand, children and their families become the central characters in both stories and games created by Dr. Russo Johnson’s company.
According to her, passive activities such as watching a video are not necessarily detrimental to one’s health. Parental engagement with their children while they use an app, read a book, or watch something onscreen can be beneficial when it is possible, but this is not always the case. Children benefit from alone time as well. Once again, there are no rules!
If you don’t pay attention to what your children are doing online, they may come across some questionable areas of the internet. Dr. Russo Johnson, on the other hand, believes that parents shouldn’t be overly concerned if their children escape from a carefully manicured digital world. In one instance, while showing her 4-year-old daughter YouTube videos of French songs, she left the room briefly and returned to find her daughter watching YouTube videos depicting toys acting out poorly scripted storey lines, she claimed.
As an alternative to freaking out, Dr. Russo Johnson found it beneficial to ask herself why her daughter might have been drawn to those videos in the first place.
She acknowledges that the lack of clearly defined rules, as well as the large amount of technology available to children, can feel like a burden to parents. “With streaming and apps, anyone can publish anything, which increases the amount of work that parents have to do,” she explained.
I inquired as to why, for such a long period of time, expert recommendations and many parents’ beliefs about children and technology were based on fear.
Dr. Russo Johnson stated that those points of view reflect long-standing concerns about children and the ways in which we respond to anything new.
“Child development research will never be completed at the speed of technology,” she predicted, adding that “we will revert to fear-based decision making…” There are a lot of people who will take the stance that “if we don’t know for sure, it’s bad and we should avoid it.”
Before we go …
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