The Upside of Digital Devices

Tips to avoid your child zoning out during screen time
Tips to Avoid Having Your Child Zone Out In Front of a Screen

For decades parents have worried about the impact of technology on their children, especially in early childhood. Today, tech insiders are outing software creators for making their products purposely addictive and the World Health Organization just classified “addiction to gaming” as an actual disease. What’s the solution?  We all know the regular drill: limit screen time and monitor what our kids watch and play. But are those really our best and only tools?

Nicole Dreiske, author of THE UPSIDE OF DIGITAL DEVICES: How to Make Your Child More Screen SmartTM, Literate and Emotionally Intelligent, advises parents and teachers to build on strengths they already have in order to help their kids develop healthy screen habits. Examine what a great relationship with screens looks like in early childhood and how screen time can support our children educationally and developmentally.

Parents invariably want their children to come to them when they’re upset about things they see on screens. They want children themselves to know when “enough is enough” and screens should be turned off. Teachers longed for children to notice “the story in a movie” and use “story vocabulary” when watching screens.

Taking that feedback, Dreiske created the Screen Smart approach to fulfill those “wish lists” and field-tested the techniques with thousands of kids, teachers and parents. Here she shares her tips for developing Screen Smart skills with parents who truly want to transform screen time.

Top Tips for Being Screen Smart
• Before pressing play, “prime” the child for this fun, new way of using screens. Try saying: “Today we’re going to do something special and watch/play together! We’re going to look for what we like, what we don’t like, and why.”  

• Use your “storybook voice.” During screen talk, you need to use your storybook voice to encourage, coax, and tease out answers. Just like reading a bedtime story, we take time to enjoy the shared space and the cuddling, using a playful and caring tone.   

• Interact and talk during screen time. Screen time is too often sedentary and solitary. When we watch or play with screens together, we give our children a totally new experience with screen time. You don’t have to watch everything with your child. Just share the experience of watching together once or twice a week. Tip: Pick something you are already familiar with for your first co-play or co-viewing experience.

• Point out details and share ideas. During story time, children ask questions. They point out colors, shapes, and characters they enjoy. You contribute whimsical comments, perhaps tying real life experiences to the book. If a child points to the picture of a dog and says, “Puppy!” you might say, “Yes, we saw a dog at the park today too! What color was the dog we saw at the park? What color is this dog?” That same kind of interaction can easily take place during shared viewing. Every word counts in early childhood and the more words shared with parents, the better!

• Ask questions. You can pause and ask questions or ask questions while the program is running. “What do you think happened there?” “What kind of animal is that?” “Why do you think she did that”? “What color is that?” You just want to get your little ones used to listening to you and answering or asking questions while watching. They can easily grasp and answer your questions while watching. Don’t hesitate to use the pause button to allow your little ones ample time to express themselves. Tip: If a child asks you what happened, try turning the question back – “What do you think happened here?” You can even replay in slow motion and look for clues.

The child-centered exploration of storybook time can make shared screen time magical. You just need to let same cozy, curious, caring bond to grow around the stories on screens, whether they’re YouTube shows, apps, or video games. Screen Smart skills give you the tools to support the empathy, family bonding, and critical thinking that will truly change the way your children use screens. Just turn on the mind before the screen!

Nicole Dreiske, Executive Director of the International Children’s Media Center, is an educational innovator and one of the country’s leaders in the development of screen-based programs for educating children. She is the author of THE UPSIDE OF DIGITAL DEVICES: How to Make Your Child More Screen SmartTM, Literate and Emotionally Intelligent.