By Lexi Walters Wright
It’s smart to limit screen time—whether television, video games or tablets. But sometimes screen time and learning can go hand in hand. Check out ways to use TV and video games to your child’s advantage.
Does your child feel different around his classmates and peers? Knowing the names of characters in popular video games, television shows and movies can help him feel like he fits in and give him a leg up on building social skills. Plus, being able to invite someone over to play a new game or watch an episode can create inroads to new friendships.
For kids who have trouble completing homework or following through with chores, screen time can be motivating. Just be sure to discuss in advance the terms of your agreement, including what your child must accomplish before turning on the device, when he has to shut it off, and what the consequences will be if he doesn’t follow the rules. It’s a good idea to write down your agreement and post it where your child can see it. It’s also wise for the deal to include reviewing your child’s work for quality and accuracy.
Research shows that certain types of video games can help children who have weak working memory and executive functioning skills. Games that require players to make a plan and follow it through—like espionage games—force players to remember the results of each action and make decisions based on them.
Are social interactions a challenge for your child? Transform a favorite television program into a tool for discussing troublesome interactions. For example, you can turn the volume off and ask your child to interpret characters’ body language and facial expressions. Another good exercise is to pause a show and ask your child to predict the reactions of various characters. This gives your child a chance to work on these skills in a context that’s familiar but nonthreatening.
Many video games now pit multiple players against one another in real time. This allows children to communicate directly with other players. These online exchanges can feel meaningful for kids who have trouble making connections with their peers at school. It can allow your child to feel engaged and understood, even if he’s exclusively talking about the game.
If your child is in preschool or grade school, ask him to look for specific letters, numbers or shapes onscreen during TV time. This encourages active TV watching as well as letter, number and shape recognition skills. Lots of apps and games help reinforce these skills, too. If your child is in middle school or high school, TV can be a good tool for understanding humor, sarcasm and wordplay. There are also some video games that can help kids work on physical coordination.
Let your child choose a TV show or movie to watch with you, then talk about what happened: How did the plot unfold? How did the characters feel at key times? Was there anything confusing about the show? These conversations encourage memory, attention to detail and time organization skills (called sequencing). Plus, they get your child thinking and talking critically about something he’s demonstrated an interest in.
Even though TV shows, video games and other media can be used as learning tools, experts recommend parents set limits on how much children use this technology. It’s recommended not to allow screen time for kids under age 2. Babies and toddlers are learning rapidly, and they do this best by interacting with people, not screens. Try to limit screen time each day to one to two hours for children and teens.
Just because kids can use technology anywhere doesn’t mean they should use technology everywhere. Help your child get more sleep by keeping screens and game consoles out of his bedroom. Turning off the TV during dinner will help the family focus on listening to one another and practicing conversation skills.
Be aware of the quality of what your child is watching and provide input on your child’s choices. Use Tech Finder to explore games and apps that can help with learning and attention issues. Certain apps can restrict access on computers and phones to age-appropriate games. You can browse titles and reviews of movies and TV shows with the help of our partner Common Sense Media. Sites like Netflix also have a “kids” setting that provides only child-friendly content.
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A veteran writer and editor for parenting magazines and websites, Lexi Walters Wright has a master’s degree in library and information science and is proud to serve families at Understood.org.
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