In this guest post, my lovely hubby Andrew shares his thoughts on screen time for kids.
Phones, tablets, ereaders and computers are all called “screens” by our kids. Working in publishing, specifically ebook publishing, our house has always been full of devices and each year the pile of “test equipment” grows. Our kids have never been strangers to technology, they couldn’t escape it if they tried, but we’ve been very careful to manage their access, partly through observed patterns and also from hard learned lessons from my own childhood (I got my first computer way back in 1987 when I was 4 years old).
Tips for screen usage
- Set guidelines
- It’s a good idea to set a time limit, like all activities moderation is important. Our girls would play Dr Panda’s Airport all day if we let them, but they’d also sit for a long time reading a book. So regardless of wether it’s device, book, or even knitting think about eye strain and muscle fatigue. Whatever the amount or activity, I’m sure we all agree that sitting curled up in one spot all day isn’t healthy.
- There are different kinds of apps and they should be treated differently. Apps, like movies, have age ratings and you should probably stick to them, they don’t just cover the content but also the complexity of the interface. An 6+ Disney app might look great for a 3 year old but the menus might be too difficult for them to navigate. Also keep an eye on the content, not all all cartoons and comics are for kids, the same goes for apps.
- Everyone loves a freebie, but watch out for “Freemium” apps that are designed to make their money from unblockable (possibly inappropriate ads) or in-app purchases for gold/candy/gems etc. I’m still on the fence about paying real money for virtual goods, downloadable content (DLCs) and unlocks but many kids and adults alike have no problem with it, which is why mobile gaming is now a bigger industry than console gaming; you don’t get that big without the money coming from somewhere! So make sure you put a password on app store purchases so your kids can’t run up a huge bill on your credit card.
- Be aware
- A lot of games can be addictive, they’re deliberately designed to be so and use the same techniques and research that professional gambling and casino sites use. Look at the mechanics of the game and ask yourself is it educational and if not, is it edifying?
- The Internet is unsafe, block it or disable it entirely. Unless you have kids in their teens, internet use really should be supervised but even then it’s a good idea to use parental controls on a device, your Internet Provider can sometimes even help you set these up. 16 year old me would have been horrified by such a draconian step, but it probably would have done me a world of good.
- Most devices can be locked down and you really should do so if you share them with your kids. You don’t want that embarassing video of you dancing along to the Frozen soundtrack being emailed to your boss accidentally!
- Make it fun
- Enough buzzkill, screentime can be a lot of fun. As well as a tonne of instructional and creative apps, the devices themselves can be part of fun activities. Last year we went to the Zoo and both girls brought along a small Amazon Fire tablet to take photos. It was a lot of fun trying to stay in the frame for the photo and we had a great time looking through them afterwards.
- Once the device is set up let them explore and you’ll be amazed at the things they’ll create in painting apps, or the funny emoji-only messages you’ll received. Less is more is a good rule for toys and the same goes for apps; if there are hundereds your kids won’t know where to start.
- You can also load up your device with videos to watch when you’re offline. Our wee man was in hospital last week and a Kindle loaded up with episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine and Toy Story 2 helped him get through a difficult day.
- Bonus points
- Repurpose an old iPhone and Pay-As-You-Go Sim card when travelling for an extra step in keeping your kids safe. A few years ago when going to the Balmoral Show I put an old phone in Tamar’s backpack, with Find My Phone switched on. Thankfully I never lost her, but if I had I would been greatful for the help in finding her. Now that she’s a little older she now knows how to locate me, should it be me that gets lost 🙂
What device should I buy
That really depends on what you want to do with it, there are the usual questions such as budget, target age etc but generally I only recomend two brands situated at either end of the spectrum, Amazon and Apple.
There are a lot of tablet manufacturers, but I’d avoid all even the big brands like Samsung and Sony becuase they are much more “open” than the two that I mentioned. The lack of restrictions mean you’ll find apps that won’t work due to compatability issues, a lack of well thought out parental controls and maybe even a virus, which is the last thing you want to have to worry about.
Amazon’s range of tablets start at £49.99 whereas Apple’s iPad range starts at £219, so what does the difference in price get you? I think of it as the difference between Content Consumption and Content Creation; Amazon devices are great for consumption whereas Apple devices will let you consume content as well as create new, videos, music, artwork etc. iPads are incredibly versatile tools; I now do almost all my work on an iPad Pro, but could never do the same on a Fire tablet. However if all I wanted to do was play games and read books and comics (and who doesn’t have one of those days every once in a while?) then the Fire tablet is perfect.
The killer feature in Amazon’s devices has to be their family profiles. Any one of us can pick up a Fire tablet and log in to see our own books, movies and games with a special child friendly interface for younger children. We can even set Daily Goals, which is the feature I love the most. It’s really easy to set up rules such as having to spend 15 minutes reading a book before using apps or watching videos. I don’t about the kids, but I could certainly do with restrictions like that once in a while 🙂
I hope you’ve enjoyed this summary and I’d love to know about “screen time” in your house. Maybe Lila will let me back some day to share ideas for stop motion movie making, photo treasure hunts and Minecraft.