A new study from Oxford University suggests limiting children’s access to digital media may not benefit their well-being as much as previously thought.
Researchers say it may actually be more beneficial for parents to become more actively engaged in exploring the digital world with their children rather than focusing on enforcing strict screen time limits.
There is “little or no support for the theory that digital screen use, on its own, is bad for young children’s psychological wellbeing,” said lead author Dr Andrew Pryzbylski of the Oxford Internet Institute.
"If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time.”
Encourage beneficial digital activity
While screen time on its own may not be inherently bad, experts stress that boundaries are important when it comes to technology use. Parents should strive to manage screen time in young kids and teens.
To do so, David Lord, CEO of JumpStart Games, recommends assessing the true intent of each device or app with the goal of weeding out any technology that will not be beneficial for your child.
“We live in a digital age that offers up many unique and creative tools that make life more productive and interesting, so a blanket limit is not prudent,” Lord told ConsumerAffairs.
Once you’ve made the call on which technology is life enhancing and engaging, you can then encourage that type of digital activity.
“The key is to stay informed and educated as a parent so you are the first line of digital decision making for your child,” said Lord. “We all know that we should limit things like snacks for kids, but what parent would limit the number of carrots or apples that a child desires?”
“Good technology follows the same analogy. Always offer up the wiser option and you won’t worry so much about limits.”
Find the right balance
In this digital age, parents should aim to help their children incorporate technology into their life in a healthy way.
“Technology is not to be compared with TV watching or music, technology is a trade, an important skill every young person should acquire like the ability to do banking, manage a home/apartment, etc,” Lord said.
“If there are concerns on content, parents should make technology time more akin to family time where learning is shared and celebrated. That way parents can be assured safe content is being consumed while their child learns important life skills.”
Parents should also be sure not to miss signs that their child’s technology use may be veering into unhealthy territory. Seeing your child live a sedentary lifestyle is a major tip-off that your they may need help finding a better balance.
“Keeping a balance between technology and an active lifestyle for children and teens is very important. Parents should set goals and time for their kids to be active and social and encourage a good balanced use of technology,” Lord said.
“The limiting of technology will happen organically when other activities are given more focus.”
Model good habits
To further encourage healthy technology use by children, parents should model good habits themselves. Setting priorities each day can also help naturally limit technology use
“It is so important for parents to be good role models and limit their own technology use and take advantage of physical, emotional and social opportunities to engage with their children and others. An active family lifestyle organically promotes screen and tech limits without having to continually set down limits and boundaries,” Lord said.
“If parents emphase homework and studying, sports, hobbies, friends, events, etc. as a higher priority on a day to day basis for their children, then technology use should naturally decline as available time lessens. In so doing, that screen time becomes more valuable and children become more selective in how they use their time.”