How can we put screen time to good use?

The rise of social media and the proliferation of all these screens, big and small, have had a massive impact on our lives. From unlimited networking with people from all over the world, to new avenues of entertainment and education that were heretofore thought impossible, it truly is an Information Age.

However, with all these screens and new technology, come new concerns about how they’re impacting our children. A lot of controversy has arisen about how all this screen time has been affecting youth development, both mentally and socially.

Many high-profile people, most tellingly in the tech world, already explicitly limit their children’s screen time. Bill Gates didn’t allow his children to use cellphones until they were 14. Steve Jobs, all the way back in 2010, said that he limited his kids’ technology use at home, and they hadn’t even gotten a chance to use the newly-launched iPad.

At Swiss International School in Dubai, we’ve previously weighed in on the subject, noting that smartphones are causing children to sleep less, and that in our boarding school, children are required to hand over their devices before bedtime. We’ve also provided some easy tips to help reduce screen time for children.

All this said, however, it’s impossible to deny how interwoven these devices have become in daily life. It might be infeasible to implement an outright ban, or micromanage your children’s screen time to the extreme.

A more viable alternative is making sure that during the times they’re using their devices, our kids are being productive, not just mindlessly consuming media.

One great way to keep kids productive on their devices is to provide them with educational software. Some great educational apps exist out there, and with access to the internet plus new concepts like gamification, they provide unique avenues of education.

For example, Duolingo is a fun and effective way of learning a language, or maintaining an existing one, absolutely free of charge. Short, simple daily lessons that feature speaking, writing, and reading all contribute to language acquisition. As SISD upholds the benefits of multilingualism, this is a very solid recommendation for us!

There are also apps and platforms that provide an incredible wealth of educational courses, such as Khan Academy and Coursera, which can strengthen existing skills and teach new ones at your child’s own pace. Requiring them to devote some time to this learning keeps their mind sharp even while they’re on their devices.

Plenty of content creators out there also make incredibly educational content. Various topical podcasts like 99% Invisible (design and architecture) and Rationally Speaking (rational thinking, cognitive science) can provide your children with unique insights into the world during their downtime. There are also plenty of YouTube channels that produce documentary-level work that rivals that which you’d have seen on Discovery Channel or National Geographic!

The key to properly managing our children’s screen time doesn’t lie in micromanaging it, but rather making the most out of it and adding ways to enrich their lives, which would replace things like mindless games or aimless social media browsing.

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