Okay, YES, we’ll admit it- our kids are on their screens a LOT more than they used to be. Because we can’t go anywhere or see anyone and, frankly, we’re all a little bored of the inside of our house.
Since one of our best chances of connection with the outside world is through our screens, you can bet our tech use has crept up-way up- in the last few months.
But if we’re going to be on our devices this much, are there better screen time activities for our kids to use? Are all forms of tech created equally when it comes to kids’ development? Or are there screen time activities that don’t really “count” as screen time?
So we set out to find out- what does research really say about the different types of screen time? And more importantly- can we let our kids use their devices more without feeling so guilty about it?
Well lucky for us, research supported our theories when it comes to tech. Here’s what the experts had to say about better screen time activities for kids.
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What “Counts” as Screen Time for Kids?
There are so many factors that have played into our (largely) universal belief that screen time is bad. There are several reasons that screens have gotten the bad rap that they (probably, mostly) deserve.
You can break the reasons why screen time is bad into two major categories: medical and social. Medical issues would include things like eye strain, lack of exercise, stiff neck, and obesity. Social issues would be problems related to attention, language development, and interaction with family and peers (Source).
So what “counts” as screen time will largely boil down to what you (or your doctor) are worried about. Physical effects, like eye strain, can be helped with blue light blocking screen covers or even kid-friendly blue light glasses. Neck strain can be helped by creative seating and varied positioning. And you can certainly find intentional ways to work movement into your kids’ day (and yours too).
In modern times, we find ourselves on screens a lot more. But we need to look critically at how those screens are being used. Are they for interaction? For your child’s schooling? Or just for entertainment?
We’d argue there is space for all of these things, but the experts are also pretty clear about which types of screen time are better than others.
Does Virtual School Count as Screen Time?
As we mentioned above, whether or not school “counts” as screen time boils down to what part of screens you’re actually worried about. From a medical perspective, for example, it certainly counts, but there are plenty of strategies to try to alleviate those issues.
From a social perspective, we’d argue that school activities don’t really count as screen time, particularly if your child is interacting with teachers and other students. The pace is likely to be much closer to the pace of classroom instruction, and it’s certainly educational.
So while it’s technically screen time, of course, it’s also pretty clear that school work won’t have many of the same social detriments as traditional definitions of screen use. And since studies simply haven’t caught up with the modern times, we just have to go with our best guess.
Let’s not rally too hard against our kids’ best chance at getting real-time education.
Mr. Rogers Doesn’t Count as Screen Time
Okay, are the kids looking at a screen while watching Mr. Rogers? Yes. So in that way, of COURSE it counts as screen time.
But one of the biggest reasons screen time is problematic for kids is partially due to the frenetic pacing, the “surprise,” and the unrealistic passage of time. Don’t believe us? Watch a traditional kids’ show and watch how many camera cuts there are. Look for sound effects, enhanced pictures, and plot twists. There’s a lot going on, and kids get used to that pace and that level of entertainment.
But if you go old school, those same elements aren’t going to cause those kinds of expectations. In a recent study, researchers proved that since Mr. Rogers doesn’t have those same concerns, it may not “count” in the way other programming does.
And that, my friends, makes for a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Are Audiobooks and Stories Good for Kids?
Many Amazon Echo devices do not have a screen, which in itself makes it a better tech activity for kids (if only for the blue light factor alone). And when used correctly, an Alexa can actually be good for kids.
The totally free Amazon Alexa skill “Amazon Storytime” has TONS of stories written just for kids, read aloud by engaging voice actors. But be warned- listening to short stories like these aren’t quite as good as reading, so don’t swap out your bedtime stories just yet.
Hearing stories read aloud does have its benefits though, like interpreting tone and learning to use stories and reading as a source of pleasure and leisure. So working some stories on the Alexa each day will do your kids more good than harm.
Does Reading an Ebook “Count” as Screen Time?
You might be holding a screen in your hand, but eBooks TOTALLY count as reading, according to the experts. Ebooks have the same opportunities for reading comprehension, tracking print, and decoding as paper books do.
You can even sign up for Amazon FreeTime for your kids, which comes with an almost limitless library of eBooks, whatever your child’s reading level may be. Ebooks are also usually available for free online check out at libraries, or you can purchase them a la carte.
Just make sure the books your kids are reading don’t come with a lot of extra “bells and whistles,” like sound effects or animations, and you’ll be good to go.
Cosmic Kids Yoga (or Other Exercise Videos)
Another big issue with screen time? Experts agree that is could be a contributing factor in childhood obesity. In fact, if you’re kids are really into their devices, workout or exercise videos could be a fantastic way to draw them into more movement.
Exercise videos such as Cosmic Kids Yoga, GoNoodle activity videos, or even dance tutorials will help kids get up and moving. Most kids should exercise for 60 minutes per day, and if a video lures them into getting that exercise? Well, experts say, more power to you.
Video Chatting with Family Doesn’t Count as Screen Time
Our favorite news when it comes to better screen time activities for kids: almost all of the experts agree that video chatting with family does not count as screen time.
Talking with a real live, living, breathing person is so much more different than the passive TV watching or tablet play we’re used to. They’re interacting, learning about conversation and turn taking, and forming closer bonds with the people they love.
Grab some blue light blocking glasses if it makes you feel better, but otherwise rest easy- those screen time chats with grandma aren’t harming your kids in the least.
Are Podcasts Good for Kids?
You know we LOVE a good kids’ podcast around here. Little Stories for Tiny People can calm our entire house down in an instant (even dad!), and my preschooler loves the silly, interactive fun of NoodleLoaf. They keep them entertained, help the mood in the house, and, if chosen wisely, can be really educational, too.
But are those podcasts really good for kids? Studies show that the true benefits of listening to podcasts don’t really kick in until kids are three or four years old, when they can begin to develop stronger listening comprehension skills.
If you’re one of those families that has to have noise in the background at all times, you’ll be happy to know that podcasts have been determined to be less harmful than TV to be playing in the background.
So do some of these activities “count” as screen time? Well, yeah. We can’t make that change for you. But the items on this list are MUCH better screen time activities for kids, if they need to engage with tech. And let’s be honest with ourselves- right now, they do.
So give yourself some grace, shake away the guilties, and remember- this too shall pass. We won’t always need to rely on screens this much, and for now, let’s just be grateful there are better tech activities to help us manage this crazy phase of life.
Anything you’d add to the list? Tell us in the comments!
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