So…. I have to tell you the truth. Before I actually HAD a kid, I thought I’d be the kind of mom who never lets her kids have any screen time, and we’d just chase butterflies through the meadow all day.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
We’ve all seen the recent World Health Organization guidelines about kids and screen-time. I heard people talking about it and thought there must be some big news, but to be honest, it was pretty much what we already knew. It’s not good for kids to be looking at screens too much, or too young. We know this. We already had recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, though these new ones from the WHO may be more stringent. In any case, I felt like ideally, we’d even make sure to have a lot less of it than the maximum allowed by either the AAP or the WHO, and wait even longer to introduce it in the first place.
And I tried. I really tried to stay away.
But the siren call of the smartphone and the tablet eventually got us. I’ve heard parents who talk about never using devices, or holding out longer than I did, or saving them strictly for situations like airplane rides. More power to them, really. I’ve also heard parents talk about letting their kids watch lots of stuff, attempting to stick within the guidelines and limits but thinking that maybe sometimes they do go over a bit and nobody’s perfect. I’ve heard parents sheepishly admit that the screen IS kind of a good babysitter in those sticky situations – like trying to fix up dinner and preferring your kid use a tablet rather than run around screaming and trying to grab the sharp knives. Parents seem rather relieved when they hear other parents admitting a similar permissive attitude with screens. Guys, you’ll find no judgement here. It’s your own judgement call. I definitely do allow my kid screen time, I do try to remain within the recommended limits but I routinely wonder if IDEALLY we’d be doing this a bit less. If IDEALLY we’d be spending more time chasing those butterflies through those meadows. Well… that’s not real life, at least not for us, and I think we’re doing okay.
Let’s talk about something else – I want to talk about the KIND of screen time they get. Whenever we DO let them use devices, it makes a profound difference how they are doing so!
Creative screen time is really the best kind of screen time, the most positive way for our kids to use devices. Part of what motivated me to develop PuppetMaster is that I wanted something truly creative for kids. There are various apps out there touted as educational, and they do have their place and value. They have educational content and they are interactive, which is better for the kids than just passively consuming content. However, I wanted to take it a step further, for something truly CREATIVE. So rather than simply responding to what’s on the screen, kids can be truly inventive and create something new. In the words of Shel Silverstein, “Put something silly in the world that ain’t been there before.”
Another motivation was that I’m obsessed with balancing and blending the real physical world with the digital world. I think physical arts and crafts are SO important. Apps that let you paint are fun, of course, and it’s nice that they are creative. But a little kid benefits so much from touching Play-Doh, or feeling how it is to apply paint with a brush and mix colors. I don’t want to lose that. So with PuppetMaster, kids are encouraged to actually step away from the screen and go MAKE something. This also means that, unlike a lot of the digital tech out there, PuppetMaster does not focus on addicting the user to the screen or keeping them on the screen as long as possible. It’s designed to be something that kids use a little bit, in combination with going off and making, or finding, things to use in their animation. In this digital age, I want to help kids stay excited about physical materials and movement. And what better way than to let them make their artwork come alive just by moving their bodies?
Stories are the way we understand the world around us, from day one. And it’s amazing the stories kids can come up with. I just wanted to give them a magical tool to really bring those stories to life.
Now, not to make it only all about myself and my app, I’ll share some thoughts about additional types of screen time –
Screen time for communication is, of course, a great use of devices – using the screen together with Mom or Dad to Skype or Facetime with grandparents, for instance, is lovely. When a child is old enough to do this, I think we can all agree this is nice.
It’s also an example of screen time that isn’t done alone. When kids are using a device together with a caregiver, they can talk about what they’re doing and learn. Instead of replacing human contact, using the device is something they are doing together. Even just watching a show is already better if somebody is watching with the kid, and having a conversation about what they’re seeing. Not a bad idea when a parent is super exhausted and the best they can muster is watching a nice educational kids’ video about animals, for example.
Of course sometimes the situation that calls for the tablet is one where the parent CAN’T participate, as they are tied up with another urgent task, or looking after a younger sibling who needs more immediate supervision. In these cases, we all know that watching something is easy, and we might as well pick something educational. As that joke goes, “they say screen time is bad but my kid watches all the time and already speaks four languages.” I very much advise, though, turning off autoplay and locking your device so that kids cannot switch around to other videos. You want to make sure they are watching ONLY something you have watched yourself and approve of. And brand name content is a lot easier to trust – Blues Clues on Amazon, for instance, is safe to me, in a way that some random video on YouTube just can’t be. It’s surprising how many videos are labeled as good for kids, and may even start off that way, but may end up useless or even scary. Beyond that, I don’t want my kid to have such a short attention span that she constantly clicks from one video to the next. So I make sure autoplay is off, the video is maximized without showing thumbnails of other options, and I use the “Guided Access” settings on my iPhone and iPad to make sure she can’t do anything except watch the one video through the end.
I hope some of these tips are helpful to you. And I’ll reiterate and say – the BEST way to use screen time is when the kid is being creative, not just consuming something. I would love if you check out some of our PuppetMaster projects and challenges, and share some of your kids’ creations too! If you tag them #MadeWithPuppetMaster, others can more easily find what you’ve made and be inspired as well.