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Screen time: How much is too much?

Screen time: How much is too much? Modern life is filled with an endless array of screens, from smartphones to tablets, desktop computers to laptops and TVs. While these devices certainly have their benefits, it’s critical to find a balance between the educational uses of technology and the somewhat all-consuming nature of games, videos and TV shows. 

As devices can be useful for online reading, researching and writing, screen time in itself is not a negative activity if your child has developed positive self-regulatory strategies. If children are unable to manage their usage, screens can become more of a hindrance than a help. Balance is key, and beneficial activities to students support literacy development such as reading, should be used to fill the void. 

Many kids are already having far more screen time than they should, and this balance is clearly not being achieved. In fact, in a recent report (Scholastic Kids and Family Reading), 75 percent of parents with kids aged 6-17 wish their child would do more activities that did not involve screen time.

At the same time, about four in five (78%) parents take an active role in monitoring what their child does online, according to ‘Parenting in the digital age’, a 2018 report by the Federal Government’s eSafety Research division. Despite this, the more time your child spends in front of the screen, the more difficult it becomes to keep track. 

Activities such as reading pose far less of a risk, since books are categorised by age and can be researched ahead of time. So how can we persuade kids to turn off the screens and pick up a book instead? 

Time to turn off

First of all, it is essential that parents strive to find books their child enjoys. In order to make reading just as much fun as watching a YouTube video or playing Angry Birds, children need to genuinely get a thrill out of their books. It is no surprise that nearly three-quarters of kids aged 6–17 (74%) responded to the Scholastic study that they would read more if they could find more books that they like.

It doesn’t have to cost a penny, either: take your child to the local library and let them select their very own books. Make it an immersive experience by attending events at book stores, or taking them to book signings when their favourite author is in town. 

Re-reading books your child loves is another great solution, so don’t force them to always read new books. If there is a particular book or series they enjoy, let them build confidence in re-reading. There’s a particular joy in treading old ground and picking up something new – particularly if it’s a more complex read. Talk to them about the book’s characters, plot and themes, and ask them if they’ve learnt something new on the re-read. 

DEAR time (Drop Everything and Read) is another strategy parents can adopt to take some time out of the chaotic technology-driven day to relax and read. Parents and children choose an amount of time to spend silent reading. It’s a chance to drop everything – chores, errands, paperwork, even homework – and whip out a book. 

The framework encourages consistent reading behaviour, and if they see you reading at the same time, even better. With younger children, reading along with them is a great way to make the experience fun – try taking on a role or a page each. 

Once your child is hooked on a new book series, the lure of the screen won’t be quite as strong. In no time at all, your children will be begging you for ‘one more chapter’ instead of ‘one more video’. 

Gemma Brown is the Literacy Coordinator at Waverley College, an independent, non-selective Catholic day school for boys waverley.nsw.edu.au

Author: Sim K

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Sim K

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