Managing your Child’s Screen Use

The content and purpose of the screen use can make a difference. It matters what is on the screen since this determines how your child engages with it and how your child’s brain is impacted by the screen use.

B.A., M.Ed.
Registered Provisional Psychologist at the school district level with experience in psycho-educational assessments and school-based intervention.

B.Sc, M.Sc.
Registered Provisional Psychologist who has worked at the school district level since 2018.

B.Ed., MSc.
Sue has worked in schools and private practice as a teacher, system leader and Psychologist for over 35 years.

While your child is learning and social distancing at home, it is expected that they will access more screen time. This creates worry for parents who are monitoring their child’s electronic use each day. However, not all screen time is created equally.  The content and purpose of the screen use can make a difference. It matters what is on the screen since this determines how your child engages with it and how your child’s brain is impacted by the screen use. For example, the brain releases and utilizes different chemicals when learning compared to when screens are used for playing video games. As stated by Savina, Mills, Atwood, and Cha (2017), “digital media itself is not dangerous for young people; however, its impact depends on when, how much, and to which content children are exposed” (p. 86).

What Does This Mean?

Learning online through face-to-face interactions with teachers, or completing assignments on your computer, is an effective way for children to access the curriculum at home (Barbour, 2013). In comparison, prolonged recreational screen use can negatively affect learning, mental and physical health if the content and time spent engaged are not properly monitored (e.g. video games depicting violence; Savina et al. 2017). It makes sense then, to be watchful of the content your child is viewing and limit excessive use. Looks for ways for your child to experience ideas and learning off the screen.

Tips for Screen Time Management

Here are some practical tips to help your child balance their recreational screen use with their online learning and other activities while at home:

  • Designate screen-free zones in your household
  • Help your child plan their time in order to create a balance and avoid screen time excess.
  • Watch for developmentally inappropriate information/content on screens. For example:
    • Games promoting violence or media sources increasing fear are discouraged. 
    • Avoid watching news that may be upsetting when your child is present.
  • Brainstorm and create a list of activities you can do that are not screen-related. Choose different tasks from the list depending on time commitments. For example, play cards or board games, conduct DIY “science experiments”, make new arts and crafts, or bake/cook together.
  • To encourage physical activity, go for hikes, bike rides, runs, or nature walks to get some fresh air. Or, for shorter bursts of activity, play hide-and-seek or have a dance party.

Most importantly, remember that our job as parents is to enhance the positive effects of using screens to learn and connect. As well, it is to be mindful of the potential negatives.

To find out more check out this article: Creating Screen Time Guidelines Through a Family Media Plan

References and Sources

Barbour, M. K. (2013). The landscape of K-12 online learning: Examining what is known. Handbook of distance education, 3, 574-593.

Savina, E., Mills, J. L., Atwood, K., & Cha, J (2017). Digital Media and Youth: a Primer for School Psychologists. Contemporary School Psychology, 21, 80–91. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40688-017-0119-0.

https://hms.harvard.edu/news/screen-time-brain