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Screen Time For Kids: 4 Myths About Tech and Apps

As technology advances, devices with screens get more sophisticated, cheaper, and, for parents, more worrisome. The pressure to plop the kid in front of an iPad for hours on end is strong, but so is the sense of guilt that pushes some parents to ban screens altogether. The correct response seems to be somewhere between laissez-faire and digital teetotalism, and it’s up to parents to figure out how much and what kind of screen time is best for their kids.

A good place to start developing nuanced rules for screen time is dispelling myths that, while accepted as conventional wisdom, are actually closer to old wives’ tales. Here are four misconceptions that need to go away so parents can introduce kids to technology in a responsible way.

Myth #1: Interactive Learning Apps Always Help Kids Learn Faster

There’s no shortage of apps that purportedly help kids learn, but they’re not all created equal. Some developers, out to make a quick buck from parents, have little to no understanding of how children actually learn. That means apps that are labeled as educational to assuage parental fears may actually be no better than addictive puzzle games like Toy Blast.

Consider a Vanderbilt University study that attempted to establish if interacting with a learning app via swiping or tapping helped preschool children learn. Using a university-built word-learning app, researchers found that while girls did benefit from tapping a screen for visual rewards, boys did not learn as much. In fact, boys were more likely to tap willy-nilly without prompting.

This discrepancy makes sense when you consider how boys and girls develop differently. Between 2 and 5 years old, girls have better impulse control and better coordination. The app served them well, but it depended on skills boys didn’t have. They likely spent more time concentrating on the dexterity challenges and less time learning what the app was ostensibly meant to teach.

The lesson: Apps labeled as educational that lack age-appropriate learning mechanisms don’t do much for developing minds.

Myth #2: Introducing a Child to Technology Early Helps Prepare Them for the Future

Lots of parents introduce tech to their kids early in life in an effort to build skills that will help them in an increasingly tech-driven future. Unfortunately, that can mean they neglect crucial interpersonal skills that kids need to develop before the age of 6. No matter how sci-fi the future becomes, children will still need to develop emotional intelligence and communication skills that can’t be built in front of a screen.

Interpersonal skills require interactions with real, emotional human beings that affect how young brains develop. For a kid’s brain to be optimally wired for interpersonal skills, those interactions need to occur during the first crucial years. That’s why a pioneering researcher in the psychology of computers, Dr. Tim Lynch, recommends parents wait until their kids reach Kindergarten before introducing them to computing in any form.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, an early introduction to tech appears to be a threat to kids’ physical development as well. British researchers found that early exposure to screens had an adverse effect on a child’s dexterity. The effect was so profound that some children were unable to hold a pencil.

The lesson: To support the development of your kids’ emotions and dexterity, wait until school to introduce screens into their lives.

Myth #3: Screen Time Is Inherently Bad

While screen time panic has reached a fever pitch, there is a growing body of research that says screen time in and of itself isn’t so bad, and that a thoughtful parental approach can make it a positive in a child’s life.

One of the first major studies of time spent in front of the television found that engaging with a TV show can be beneficial as long as the content is educational. For instance, researchers found that watching Sesame Street was as beneficial for some kids as years of preschool education. And watching shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood correlates with increased emotional intelligence in kids who watch regularly.

But research also suggests that it’s not enough for parents to simply place their kid in front of a screen and hope they learn something. Screen time is much for helpful when parents are a partner helping their kids understand and interact with the content.

A Georgetown study found that kids learned better on a puzzle app when they were coached by an adult than when they followed an on-screen tutorial. Help from adults was a “social scaffolding” that helped kids learn. Studies like this are what helped define the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on screen time. These stress parental involvement in media consumption, including a personalized Family Media Use Plan developed in concert with a pediatrician.

So, what is actually bad about screen time? When screen-fed media is overconsumed by kids, they tend toward inactivity. The blue light that screens emit can also interfere with sleep patterns. So, the smart parenting solution is to set time limits for kids that include at least an hour of screen-free time before bed.

Myth #4: Video Games Are Inherently Bad

“Video Games” writ large have received a bad rap from parents, who only see mindless button-mashing, and politicians, who only see gratuitous violence. But conflating a game like Minecraft with a game like Red Dead Redemption ignores the realities of how video games affect kids.

It is true that the child psychology community is conflicted regarding the effect of violence in video games. But not all video games are violent. And besides, the reason violent video games might lead to violence is that they act as simulators. By selecting the right games, parents can turn the power of simulation into something positive for their kids.

Studies have shown that fast-paced video games can increase reading speed in dyslexic children, that strategy-based games promote problem-solving skills, and that world-building games like Minecraft promote creativity. Finally, controlling the main character in a video game prompts kids to see the world through their eyes and can help build emotional intelligence. Like books and TV shows, video games can also be used as learning tools.

But as with television and books, video games benefit from parental involvement. The problem of antisocial behavior connected to gaming is likely couched in the fact that parents allow kids to go into their virtual worlds alone and without guidance. In fact, parents would be better off joining them in those worlds, regardless of console choice.

Kids benefit from parents who recognize the achievement in mastering a game, and parents will be more empathetic and less wary of their kids’ gaming behavior if they recognize the effort they’re making to achieve a difficult task — even if that task is in a digital world.

Source: Screen Time For Kids: 4 Myths About Tech and Apps | Fatherly

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How Technology Can Help Not Hurt Family Connections – Julia Freeland Fisher

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Between headlines about children’s ballooning screen time to growing concerns about the costs of distracted parenting, it’s easy to scapegoat technology for troubling family dynamics. The warm glow of a touch screen threatens to pull children and adults alike from investing in caring and face-to-face connections. In 2018, good parenting and technology don’t seem to mix.

But what if technology could start to prompt conversations that parents and children otherwise struggle to initiate? And more importantly, what if technology opened up time for more and better face-to-face interactions to take root? Luckily, edtech entrepreneurs are beginning to explore these possibilities.

Emerging platforms are starting to do what one founder, Josh Schacter (of the app CommunityShare), calls “going online to go offline.” In other words, although tools may require some online interactions and infrastructure, they ultimately aim to choreograph connections that can blossom offline.

One such tool is PowerMyLearning, which is breaking new ground in helping triangulate teacher-student-family connections and engaging parents actively in their children’s homework. I sat down with the organization’s CEO and Co-Founder, Elisabeth Stock, to learn more.

Julia: How does PowerMyLearning strengthen the relationship between schools and families? How is it different from traditional approaches to family engagement?

Elisabeth: At PowerMyLearning, we believe that students are most successful when supported by a triangle of strong learning relationships between students, teachers, and families. If you ask an adult, “What is the education system?” they’ll usually respond, “Well, there is the superintendent, the principals, the teachers union, and so on.”

But if you ask a student, they’ll say, “Oh that’s easy, it’s my teachers and family.”

PowerMyLearning ensures students, teachers, and families can operate as a system, with everyone rowing in the same direction, by transforming teaching and family engagement in schools and districts nationwide. Our work includes innovative coaching and workshops, and our digital platform, PowerMyLearning Connect.

PowerMyLearning’s Family Playlists are a great example of work we do to strengthen the triangle. These playlists are interactive homework assignments through which students practice a set of learning activities and then teach them to a family partner, usually a parent, who then provides feedback to the teacher about the experience (like how well the child understood or explained the lesson). Family Playlists differ from traditional approaches to family engagement in three ways:

First, Family Playlists leverage the type of family engagement that has the most impact on academic achievement: families supporting their children’s learning at home. Second, Family Playlists put families in the role of teammate and supporter.

Traditional family engagement efforts put families in the role of enforcer (“The parent portal shows that you haven’t turned your math homework yet – why not?”). Ellen Flanagan, a principal at one of our partner schools in New York City, said, “Our teachers love Family Playlists. They shift the homework dynamic from compliance to engagement and students learn the material better.”

Third, Family Playlists make family engagement measurable because teachers and principals can easily track family participation throughout the school year, which means family engagement can be improved. For students without an engaged family member, schools can help identify a supportive and caring adult outside the classroom to help with their learning.

Julia: Do you also see shifts in students’ relationships with their own families resulting from your approach over time as well?

Elisabeth: We definitely see a shift in students’ relationships with their own families over time. Usually, an after-school conversation goes something like: “What did you do in school today?” “Nothing.”  “What did you learn?” “Nothing.”

Family Playlists completely change that dynamic. Parents are excited to have the opportunity to sit down with their kids and understand what they are learning. Bilingual parents, in particular, are engaged in a way that they never were before. One mother from one of our schools this year, said: “It’s taken me back to my school days.

My child understanding factors has helped me understand. It’s also helped my child improve and enjoy doing school work, in and out of school. Parents and children can actually vibe and communicate a lot more with each other. I just want to give you guys a huge (thumbs up emoji) for such a great invention.”

Working with partner schools implementing Family Playlists, we have found that students were not only teaching academic concepts to their families, they were also teaching socio-emotional learning competencies like persisting when struggling and keeping a growth mindset about learning.

It’s hard work for students to teach their parents—some even say they take away their parent’s phones to keep them on task. However, the students lean in to the struggle because they feel confident teaching their parents something they don’t know.

From interviews with the kids, we also saw that trust and attachment were powerful byproducts of Family Playlists. One student, Binta, said her mother trusts her more because she’s now directly involved in her learning. She said, “Family Playlists make our bond better because we interact more.

We have more fun times than we normally do. My mom used to tell me every day to study and go over my notes. Now, she trusts me and knows how well I’m doing. She likes to listen to me explain what I’m learning.”

Julia: There’s a technology infrastructure–the PowerMyLearning Connect platform–behind your model. Where is that technology facilitating online connections and where is it coordinating offline interactions? How do you think about the right balance between online and offline teacher-family-student connections to best support student success?

Elisabeth: We have done a lot of thinking about how Family Playlists can facilitate a balance of both online and offline interactions to best support student success.

We use online interactions when supporting the connection between teachers and families. Online enables them to interact comfortably (in their own language) and asynchronously (to accommodate schedules). For example, when a teacher assigns the playlist, family partners receive a text in their home language with the due date and a link to the full Family Playlist.

Once students have finished the teaching portion, the family partners can use their phone to send a photo of their work and/or themselves (who doesn’t like taking selfies?) to the teacher, along with feedback on how well their child understood the concept. The photos bring the teacher “inside” their home and helps provide a clearer understanding of their child and home context.

We use offline interactions during the portion of the Family Playlist when the students teach their family partner. For example, when teaching coordinate plane, students work with their family partner on creating a map of their neighborhood together. They plot their home at the origin and then graph the coordinates of important locations nearby.

We go offline for these teaching moments because we want the students and family partners to be present for each other: we want them to look at each other, touch real-world items around their home and have a real conversation.

The idea that face-to-face interactions facilitate teachable moments ties closely with recent studies showing that our cell phones can hurt our close relationships when we are in the same room or at the same dinner table; in those moments, interacting without screens fosters closeness, connectedness, interpersonal trust, and perceptions of empathy—the building-blocks of relationships.

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