How to Worry Less About Your Child's Screen Time
Whole Play pairs screen time with other activities.
Posted Mar 26, 2020
Did you know that the number one health-related worry of parents in Australia is children’s screen time? Similar findings have been reported in studies of American and European parents, as well. Parents and professionals are concerned that many children are displaying signs of screen addiction.
But I'm here to tell you to worry less about your child’s screen time. A careful analysis of the data suggests that only a small portion of kids—maybe 3%—display signs of disordered video-game behavior. Other studies indicate that another 5-10% may display problematic screen time that interferes with school, sleep, and relationships. These are very legitimate concerns for both of these groups that require some type of professional consultation or involvement. However, consider something else for those many other kids who love their screen time but are not impaired by it. The best way to worry less about your child's screen time is to find ways to leverage it into healthier, more well-rounded activities. Help your kids use their screen time to engage in what our team at LearningWorks for Kids calls “Whole Play.”
Whole Play combines screen-based play with activities that promote problem-solving, academic learning, collaboration, physical fitness, and other healthy activities. I suggest that Whole Play that combines screen-based digital play with other activities can create a more fertile opportunity for learning, just as combining food groups such as beans and rice is often more nutritious when eaten together than separately.
The concept of Whole Play derives from the world of food and nutrition. Consider that food experts have been recommending eating whole grains rather than refined grains. Whole grains offer a complete package of health benefits because the whole grain kernels contain three parts (the bran, germ, and endosperm), and each section houses health-promoting nutrients. This combination has a variety of health benefits for our bodies, including the breakdown of starch into glucose and maintenance of a steady blood sugar level, lower cholesterol, healthy digestion, and prevention of blood clots and cancer. While I can't argue that combining digital, screen-based play with other activities will prevent diseases, there is evidence that complex play improves social and emotional learning (SEL).
Whole Play leverages the allure of digital play to encourage other forms of healthy play such as physical activity, social and collaborative opportunities, creative and unstructured play, constructive and building play, and problem-solving. Because Whole Play is more than technology, it can reduce the reliance of 21st-century children on these screens for play, entertainment, and virtually everything else. The combination of digital play with other activities can make other types of play more engaging. One reason that children and adults are so engaged with screens is that they are addictive by nature. In his book by the same name, Adam Alter describes screens and technology as “irresistible.” It's not you and the kids that are to blame, it's the technologies themselves and the developers who make them. Screens have the power to grab our attention, keep us focused, and, in turn, keep us from engaging in other healthier activities. But if we can use this technology in the form of Whole Play to promote other healthy play and activities, we have a chance to help our kids and ourselves.
This is why I encourage parents and educators to worry less about kids' screen time and not reject it outright. First of all, technology is not going away. This is not to say that parents and educators shouldn’t act. Most parents would be doing a better job if they were more in control of digital media and technology for younger children. I’d suggest that they play a far more important role in monitoring and involving themselves in joint media engagement with preteens and tweens. And while it may be hard to restrict teens from access to digital media and technology, honest and forthright family discussions that focus on general health-related issues and balancing screen use in one's life are strongly encouraged. Coming from the perspective of Whole Play, that does not reject the use of screens but makes it easier to talk about using digital media and screen time to enrich one's life. The combination of digital, screen-based play with other activities, just as with rice and beans, can be more digitally nutritious and help kids engage in healthy play that is so important for their lives.