Screening Screentime: Parenting in the digital age

by | Jul 19, 2018 | Blog

In some ways, parenting is easy. We know that we shouldn’t give our kids cake for dinner. We know that we shouldn’t let them run with scissors. We know we should always make sure they feel loved and secure.

In other ways, however, being a parent is a bit trickier. We don’t always know how to navigate around the (well-meaning) advice from loved ones, internet forums, doctors etc. Perhaps one of the most difficult jobs for parents today is knowing how to guide children as they explore a world rich in technology and connected access.

I’m the mother to an active toddler and just before he was born, I remember being in a restaurant and seeing a child who couldn’t have been older than 3, heavily immersed in a game he was playing on a cellphone. This image stayed with me. I proceeded to write an emotive post on social media where I waxed lyrical about a lost era of childhood. My friends commented on the post in agreement, one of them even declared that their children would spend all their free time climbing trees.

What I should post now is a follow-up status update, written about how the very cellphone I was lamenting about, is my son’s sole tool for communicating with his father who lives more than a thousand kilometers away from us.

I still have a mental picture of that child playing with a cellphone and I wonder if it would be possible to look at that image from another lens. Will it excite us to see how quickly our young children learn to use the latest technology? What if we shift our thinking around technology being either inherently bad or good? After all it is the quality of the screen time that’s most important. Are kids passively sitting in a zombie mode or engaged and interacting with people and the world around them

Technology can be a positive force in children’s lives. Here are a few ways caregivers can facilitate a healthy relationship between kids and tech.

Engaging educational apps

More than 80 000 apps are labelled as educational in the Apple and Android app stores. Any developer can label their app as being educational, making navigating through the pool of available apps a bit tricky. My tips regarding that are; steer clear of apps that keep children’s attention through passive activities like repetitive swiping. Rather look for apps that require mental effort and depend on the child’s active participation. It’s important that apps encourage interaction via discussion or conversation. One of Innovation Edge’s investments CareUp offers a mobile app solution that is designed to improve early literacy through mobile messaging, audio files and interctive activities.

Content That Appeals To The “4 Cs”

Using a term coined by Common Sense Media, the 4 Cs (connection, critical thinking, context, and creativity) should be taken into consideration when striving to make the most of the time your child spends with the screen. Does the tech your child is engaging with provide an experience they can connect with and learn from? For older children, does it require critical thought that digs deeper and challenges them to think about new ways of solving problems? Does it help your child understand how technology fits into the larger world – for example, are there problems faced within a video game that can be related to real life, does it stimulate creativity?

Lead by example

It’s important to keep a balance between engagement in the digital and real world.­­­­ Set a good example by prioritising social and family time, and making time to play or talk with children. No high tech app or device can replace in-person interactions with a child. Back and forth communication, playing peek-a-boo, banging on pots and pans, is an important part of early learning. More than 90% of brain development happens before the age of five, simple interactions are brilliant ways of facilitating early learning and brain growth.

About the Author

Nadanababalwa Hermanus joined Innovation Edge in April 2018, bringing journalistic roots and a passion to the organization’s work of investing in young lives. Nada sees storytelling as the binding thread in her career. She is responsible for supporting the development and implementation of marketing and communications plans that contribute to achieving Innovation Edge’s strategic goals. She is also responsible for executing the following communication efforts: social media, web maintenance, and events organization. Her professional experience includes working in Broadcast Media, working with start-ups and non-profits. She holds a National Diploma in Journalism from Nelson Mandela University.