Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Flipping the Screen Time Conversation into a Meaningful Activity Exploration

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I have a suggestion. Stop talking about screen time. Our focus should not be on screens and time, but rather what kind of meaningful activities are our kids doing throughout the day. And as I say this, I want to remind myself of two things: Sonia Livingstone and Anya Kamanetz spoke of this and researched this before, and I know at least Anya has even updated her work in the context of COVID-19. Second thing: as we call it meaningful activity, I also want to remind is that as adults , we also sometimes seek meaningless activities. So that’s important for kids, I assume, too 🙂

Ok so here goes my suggestion, and what I will say to any judgmental person who is willing to listen. Here is what I am doing with my own kid.

  1. If it is communication time that is happening online (texting with friends or Zooming or Messenger or such) then it is SOCIAL time, and in the context of covid and very few in-person playdates, this is a lifeline, a necessity for her wellbeing, and she can do it as much as she likes. One time she was chatting late at night with a friend in PJs and they called it a slumber party. Cool! Now, after covid, we may need to revise this in favor of more in person playdates, but I suspect this will work itself out anyway?
  2. If it is educational time on a screen, it is LEARNING TIME. If she is reading a book on Kindle (because way quicker than searching 3 different bookstores in Egypt, some of whom do not deliver) then it is learning time. If she is making a game on Scratch or building stuff on Minecraft, it is LEARNING time. If it is Minecraft while chatting on Zoom to my friend’s kids halfway round the world, it is social, learning, AND intercultural learning experience time. Three in one, people! Same goes for watching educational shows on NetFlix/TV. Also, sometimes shows have good values behind them and that’s educational in other ways
  3. If it is watching something comedy that makes her smile, this is WELLBEING time. We both need it. We often watch together and laugh together.
  4. If it is watching something that makes her get up and dance and sing, this is EXERCISE time and also WELLBEING and we can keep dancing together and having fun!
  5. If it is using the phone for art work or to make music, this is CREATIVE time. It’s just an e-card rather than a paper one, or it is digital music rather than her piano. It’s still music and art
  6. If it is playing a game on a phone, this one I linda limit a bit. If she is playing with her friends, as long as she does pay with only friends and no strangers, this is PLAY TIME. I only limit it if she spends too long on it or seems addicted. In reality, they get bored eventually if they play it too long too many days anyway… but I try to limit this if it seems to go on too long
  7. If it is listening to a podcast, this isn’t screen time. It is RADIO/LISTENING time and helps her concentration and develops language
  8. If she is thinking of downloading a new app and asks my permission, asks if it is gonna take her data, or checks it out on Common Sense Media before asking me then this is called DIGITAL & MEDIA LITERACY
  9. As long as she does some analog activities throughout the day like some chores, some physical activity, some talking to me, some creative or lego type or kinetic sand play, and some reading… and as long as the screen time gets interrupted every now and then… I am not counting screen time. I am making sure she has some fulfilling daily experiences, wherever she can get them

Would love to hear what others do and think…. except if you believe in a strict arbitrary limit to screen time that you are able to manage, because then we can’t talk!

P.S. I had a post in draft about why we won’t win the screentime battle, but I didn’t finish it. I think this framing is more constructive!

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