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Screen time is not all that bad.

For better or for worse, the advancement of technology has permeated every aspect of our lives and profoundly affects the way we live. Digital literacy has become an essential part of a child’s development now more than ever. As parents, it is important to recognise that not all screen time is bad. Instead, we should learn to embrace and adapt to it positively.

Here are tips to help ensure your child uses screen time positively:

1.  Educate them when they’re little

Don’t wait till they turn into sullen teens intent on keeping their own privacy. Teach your young kids now about a balanced approach towards technology. Keep an open and honest conversation with your child about the positive and negative impact of screen time. Instil in them good habits for self-control. Like everything else, there will come a time where it will be impossible for you to monitor your child. So before that time comes, you will need to perhaps be less militant and give them the space to learn to make the right decisions.

2.  Technology together, not apart

Studies have shown that engaging technology together is a wonderful way to bond with the family. There are plenty of high-quality materials in the market that promotes active engagement amongst family members. Whether it is having a dance-off on your Playstation4 or working together to deliver a variety of dishes with Overcooked, your children would love to see the fun side of you. If you are in for some downtime, perhaps you could stream a movie on Netflix that the whole family can enjoy together?

If bursting the internet quota is a worry, families could opt for a plan like MaxisONE Prime which allows them to rest easy with the magic word – unlimited. Unlimited mobile internet for the whole family (principal and all shared lines), all under one easily manageable package. As the average Malaysian spends a total of RM229 on data, with MaxisONE Prime, they can save up to RM42 per month*.

*depending on size of household

3. Parents to promise too

Even as adults, we may have moments of weakness when spend a little too much time scrolling our Instagram feed. Unfortunately, unless you lock yourself up in the bathroom, you most likely have little pairs of eyes observing you. According to Anya Kamenetz, author of The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, “Managing your own use is crucial to successfully helping your kids self-manage.” It starts with having a family agreement on what is a reasonable amount of time to be spent on our screens, for everyone. Some families go to the extent of signing a pledge which could be something your family could do too.

4. Keep the connections strong

Let the kids understand the very best thing about technology – that it allows us to keep loved ones close. Programmes such as Skype and FaceTime allow us to stay in touch on a regular basis without costing us much. Our children may easily communicate with their grandparents who might live in a different state or with a cousin who might be in a different country. In this instance, do not worry about the screen at all. Having back and forth conversations helps with their language skills and social interactions!

If you as a parent had to be away for a work trip, separation anxiety would certainly be minimised thanks to technology. Parents and families who are MaxisONE Prime customers can take all the time in the world for calls with their little ones, with unlimited Free Family Roaming in all ASEAN countries. Gone are the days of watching the clock, worrying about those crazy roaming charges!

5.  Encourage Resourcefulness

Your children could be like the students who are taking more responsibility for their own learning, using technology to gather information. Programmes such as Google Classroom provides opportunities for students to communicate and collaborate in ways that were previously undreamt of.

Your child could learn to be resourceful not only through educational materials but through games as well. Kim Komando writes about the hidden benefits of Minecraft, a popular computer game, for USA Today: “One overlooked value of most strategy-based video games is resource management. The player has a finite amount of resources at any given time and needs to decide wisely how to use them most effectively.”

Although your child, even you, may not notice at the time, these skills are essential for later on in life. It is your role as a parent, to ensure that technology is rightly utilised. Organisations like Common Sense Media lists reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programmes to guide you in making the best choices for your children.

6.  Recognise behavioural changes

There are plenty of guidelines out there on how much screen time a child should get. However, we need to recognise that every child is different. As a parent, it is important to watch out for changes in your child’s behaviour. Do they experience bedtime and wake up battles? Do they suffer from mood swings, is there any loss in appetite or any sudden weight gain? These could be signs that they are spending too much time with their devices. Speak to your pediatrician about it if necessary. As a rule of thumb, screen time should not affect sleep, studies, family time and exercise time. You could have the option to control your kids’ internet time by assigning internet quotas such as MaxisONE Prime DataPool.

7.  Tools for filtering and monitoring

You can support your child’s learning with the right content. But with such a wide and scary variety of websites and information out there, how can you be sure your child is surfing safely? Statistics show that a low percentage of parents installed parental control software because 59 per cent of them never heard of such software.

But there are many programmes available that can assist you in monitoring your child’s usage, such as MaxisONE Prime’s KidNanny. The only parental control for cyber safety you’ll need, KidNanny allows you to filter inappropriate websites and ensure that your child can only access family-friendly apps. You can also manage and track screen time and remotely prevent unwanted access to your child’s device.

8.  Stranger danger

Children need to be instilled with proper internet etiquette and learn to be diligent about what is being posted. They need to understand that anything they post online, will forever be part of their internet footprint. Where possible, try to ensure that your child’s privacy setting is set to the maximum. Once they have reached a certain age, talk to them about the existence of sex offenders and the possibilities of them hiding behind different identities in social networking sites and online games, among others. They should be confident enough to know to leave the website and inform a trusted adult immediately if they feel uncomfortable, unsafe or worried.

 

This post is sponsored by Maxis, now with the MaxisONE Prime, an easily manageable family plan that provides unlimited internet for your home and all your mobile lines. This plan is open to new and existing Maxis customers. Just subscribe to any MaxisONE Plan and any MaxisONE Home Fibre Plan to enjoy all of these MaxisONE Prime benefits:

It’s 2015 and screens are everywhere around us. From laptops to televisions to increasingly addictive smartphones and other similar devices, it seems our lives are now governed by the 32 gigabytes of storage memory of your mobile. But what does this mean for our children?

Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psycho-therapist from Los Angeles recommends that children under the age of 2 should not have any exposure to any devices including regular television. She also elaborates that preschoolers should be limited to 30 minutes, and kindergartners 45 minutes, with supervision at all times. Cut your toddler’s screen-time in half with these helpful tips.

Be a good role model: It’s been a long-known fact that children learn the best from the actions of a person, especially a parent or role model. So if we think it’s okay to be swiping on our tablets for hours on end, the little ones will not even hesitate to ask. Of course, there are times when things just need to be done and grown-ups do need their toys to finish up their grown-up responsibilities but a toddler is too young to understand this.

Go to a park or two: Not only does this take up time they could be in front a screen but also promotes physical activity and family bonding. Games like tag or frolicking around the playground might eliminate some possibility that the toddler develop sedentary habits. There might even be a few things to teach while you’re out there too, especially in places like KL’s Butterfly Park. Lucky for you, we’ve already done the legwork and compiled a list of the best parks for families.

Play physical games at home: Even if you cannot go anywhere, there are a number of physical games that can be played from the comfort of your own home like tag, hide-and-seek, or a scavenger hunt. It’s all about filling in the time with another more engaging activity instead of only swiping away on the smartphone.

Go on an adventure!: What better way to teach your toddler about the world than to explore it first-hand. Stimulate your child’s curiosity beyond the screen with this list which is ripe with activities that range from free movies and cultural performances to more outdoorsy adventures, all within the Klang Valley.

Warn them: Often times, abrupt interruption can lead to temper tantrums. One way to ease the separation from screen-time is by letting the child know, he or she has only a little time left before it’s off to do other things. This allows the child to still continue playing for the remainder of the time with the knowledge that he or she should wrap things up.

Get an app: It is quite ironic on having to rely on an app to keep the kids away from using other apps. There are ones that automatically power-off given a set time like Kid Time for iOS and KIDOZ for Android.  Keep in mind that there are also a number of apps on smart devices that are incredibly educational and fun at the same time. Regulating exposure is just as important as regulating content. If you’re planning on downloading a few, we recommended those that are age-appropriate, provide achievable goals and lessons which are fun and can be involved with parents.

Image Credit: Flickr user LandoCol.

TV

Long hours at work and coming home to a pile of chores sound like a tune we’re all much too familiar with as parents. And having a pint-sized person with enthusiastic opinions and quick feet in the way of getting the laundry done is just about all you can take without having your head done in. Thank god for the TV – the one babysitter that your usually bouncy little toddler can sit entranced with for hours without making a peep. It makes you feel a little guilty but hey, we do what we’ve got to do.

When baby Aria first came, Max and I took some time adjusting to two and for a while, we had used the TV to keep Aidan occupied while we managed other things. It was frustrating because our two-year-old constantly needed our attention and eventually seemed to want to watch TV all the time, preferring the screen to even playing outdoors.

It scared me into doing some research and I began reading a bunch of literature related to how screens change brain development, many of which seem to have to do with “shortening attention spans, reducing impulse control and heightening aggression”. More studies claim that more screen-time is directly correlated to increased likeliness of ADD and ADHD symptoms because TV poisons attention spans and the ability to focus, which is a classic hallmark of executive function. It makes sense – the blink-and-you’ll-miss, ever-changing pace of TV shows is greatly unnatural and once a child begins to see this rate as normal, surely it can be challenging to get him to sit still for a half-hour lesson on the letter “M”.

And worst of all, once they’re started on it, it’ll be tough to wean because TV is addictive and sets up a habit for life. I was certainly learning that the hard way.

I see the logic in the arguments – like the fact that passive viewing bypasses the need for imagination – and that children’s brains were designed to optimally develop by engaging with the physical world and their perception of it. The tried-and-tested methods like fantasy play, building with blocks, art, social interaction, physical outdoor activities and reading have been proven to provide an avenue for self-regulation, problem solving, creativity and people skills as well as the foundation for learning, math and reasoning, so why let TV get in the way?

Developmental molecular biologist and research consultant John Medina dedicates an entire section of his book Brain Rules for Baby on how TV affects children. Backed by science, he explains why we need to consider the content of what our kids are being exposed to. Some excerpts:

  1. Kids are very good imitators. Also known as deferred imitation, babies have the ability to reproduce a behavior after witnessing it only once which has clearly powerful implications. The skill never leaves children, something advertisers have known for decades. A study on bullying shows for each hour of TV watched daily by children below age 4, there was a 9% increase in risk that they would engage in bullying behavior by the time they started school. The American Association of Pediatrics estimates that 10-20% of real life violence can be attributed to exposure to violence.
  2. Content is important because our expectations and assumptions profoundly influence our perception of reality. This is due to the brain’s eagerness and willingness to insert its opinion directly into what you’re currently experiencing – and then fool you into thinking that this hybrid is the actual reality. Experiences morph into expectations, which can, in turn, influence your behavior.

My reading literature was so overwhelmingly negative against the TV that I put a kicking-and-screaming Aidan on a TV fast early in the year. His behaviour changed dramatically. He began learning to play by himself, from making sounds while he pushed his train around to playing pretend with his bear and making imaginary forts with his climbing gym. Then Max got in with the programme too, starting him on blocks and making something different every night. Now they’ve got a lovely photo collection of things they’ve built with their Duplo.

Having to turn off the TV is tough to hear for parents that need a break. But if you simply have no choice, there are a few recommendations to follow to mitigate the worst consequences on your kids:

1. Set limits on screen time. A team of child specialists provides this following guideline for technology use by children and youth:

ScreenTime
2. Help your kids choose the programmes they will experience and pay special attention to any media that allow intelligent interaction.

3. Watch the chosen TV shows with your children, interacting with the media and helping them analyse and think critically about what they’ve just experienced.

Admittedly, when I’m alone with the two, the TV is still my preferred babysitter so I can handle the baby without the toddler harassing us both. But after experiencing first-hand how badly it affected Aidan, I’m much more vigilant about its use and have now decided that it’s better to send him to playschool for a few hours a day to free up some time. Other times, I encourage him to play on his own. Because risking his brain development is much too high a price to pay for keeping him busy looking at the boob tube.

Khairun is a mum to two kids and owner of Recovr Resources Sdn Bhd, a growing social enterprise in the recycling and equal employment industry. She and her family are currently living in Jakarta.

Image Credit: Flickr user Kelly Sikkema