Screen time. Two words that feel a bit controversial in the parenting-sphere. But used in the right way, it can have plus points for your child
OK, here’s the thing with screen time. It’s all very well trying to find alternatives – but when you’re on a long plane journey or the wrong side of a sleepless night, an app on your phone can be your lifesaver.
The key is balance and sticking to any boundaries you set about when your child can watch TV or use the iPad.
‘Screen time isn’t about using it instead of toys, books, play and actual interaction with your child – it’s meant to compliment that,’ says Lucy Gill, from play advice site goodtoyguide.com.
And there are plus points if you make the most of it.
Language. Numbers. Books. There’s a show and app for everything, and if your child’s interacting and engaged, he’s learning something – but it’s about catering to his attention span.
‘The typical one for a three year old is about 15 minutes, so up to half an hour is a good gauge for a screen time session,’ says Lucy. ‘Beyond that, he may not actually be absorbing anything, which is why TV shows for children are so short.’
If your child’s interacting and engaged, he’s learning something – but it’s about catering to his attention span
If you’re looking for the best educational apps, check out online reviews by other parents, and look for certain features. ‘With phonics apps, make sure it’s in British English as that’s what children are taught at school,’ says Lucy.
And with book ones, find apps where the text is highlighted as you read it – it helps make that connection between the sound and word.
An emotional boost
Television and apps can be a good way to address trickier or more complicated subjects about everything from signing and language to health – and just look at the popularity of brilliant shows like Something Special.
‘You can also get facial expression apps to help your child understand what different emotions look like,’ says Lucy.
‘Get even more benefit by interacting with your child at the same time, so talking and asking questions about what you’re doing.’
The physical points
With button pressing on apps, surely there’s some physical development going on? Yes, it encourages your child’s fine motor skills – the smaller muscle movements – but it’s about the type of app you choose as well.
‘Basically, you’re looking for an activity that’s not too difficult, but also not too easy for your toddler’s ability – something slightly challenging, so think about jigsaw apps or ones where he alternates fingers to tap the screen,’ says Lucy.
‘It’s a bit trial and error, but you know how he’s developing and what he can already do outside of screen time, so tailor your choice to that and a little more.’
That’s why free apps can be good – to see how he gets on with it – and then you can upgrade as he progresses or try something new if you need to take a step back.
How do you use screen time in your house? Let us know on the comments board below.