As parents, screen time for children is one of the (many) things we worry about. Especially when balancing work and home life during the school holidays.
However, screen time shouldn’t automatically be characterised as negative. As with most things in life, context is critical.
Smartphones, tablets, and newfangled technologies are tools. How we use them and integrate them into our family lives are choices we make, and it’s all about balance.
Empowering our children to help decide how and when we use these tools is a necessary step towards a healthy relationship with screens and smart technology.
So, what are the risks of screentime?
There’s a vast expanse of research out there about screen time for children. However, there is very little research on smartphones and smart technology. The majority of research focuses on television use.
According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), evidence suggests links between excessive screen use and adverse effects on child development, including obesity, poor sleep, reduced social skills, and depressive symptoms.
However, they conclude that these effects aren’t a direct result of the screens themselves but how they are being used.
They argue that any adverse effects of screen time in children are actually due to the missed opportunities for positive activities they could have been doing instead of using screens, such as exercise, socialising, and play.
Interestingly, the RCPCH also referenced studies showing that no access to screens had a negative effect on children’s mental health, which supports the idea that in moderation (as with most things), screen time can be beneficial to our children.
When we consider, too, that smart technology is far more interactive and intuitive than traditional television use, we can offset some of those negative consequences by using smartphones, tablets and apps to facilitate exercise, learning, socialising, and play.
The British Psychological Society highlights how smart technology and screen time enhance the lives of children and young people – technology offers access to knowledge to satisfy even the most curious of minds. It gives children a means to decide how they learn new information and (especially during the pandemic) enabled them to maintain their social circles, family relationships and combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. In older children and teenagers, it offers them the opportunity to explore their emerging identities and ‘find their tribe’.
In the absence of further research, it appears that technology presents immense opportunities for learning, but with the risk of potential harm if not used in a safe, balanced way. It seems then that encouraging positive use of screen time from an early age is key to a healthy relationship with technology.
Green time and screen time
Part of me wonders whether our aversion to screen time and technology comes from our own childhood experiences and how different the world is for today’s children.
Many of my fondest childhood memories involve nature play, exploring the outdoors, knee-high in thick mud, exploring woods and forests, and scrambling over rocks trying to find insects, plants, and wild animal tracks.
When we were children, we had far more freedom. We were left to our own devices for hours on end, exploring our local patches of nature. In fact, 50% of today’s adults played unaccompanied in nature when they were a child, compared to only 10% today. That time exploring gave us independence. Nature play taught us to assess and respond to risks and challenges and the opportunity for unstructured, imaginative play.
Today, this level of freedom isn’t possible (traffic, for one thing, poses a considerable danger for today’s children). Some researchers call it the ‘extinction of experience’ and ‘nature deficit’, which sounds very doom and gloom, but you can see where they’re coming from.
Children aren’t as connected to their natural surroundings as they used to be.
It’s our responsibility as parents to find creative ways to reconnect our children with nature and recreate opportunities for exploration and learning we had as children.
Technology used for good may just hold the answer.
Nature play and augmented reality
The health benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. Access to green spaces, earthing, and forest bathing have all been connected to improved mental health and relaxation.
Time spent in nature improves learning too. Particularly if a learning experience is multisensory, as we’re more likely to absorb and recall new knowledge when we engage multiple senses.
Buttercup Learning’s augmented reality posters do just that.
Scan our posters or books with our free app on your smartphone or tablet, and you’ll reveal animated content, videos, sound files and web pages to explore with your child while you’re out and about in nature. You’ll give them a multi-sensory adventure that combines the physical and virtual world and brings the creatures from the natural world to life before their eyes.
Our best-selling bee posters contain multiple layers of educational content for your budding enviro-scientists, including stunning illustrations, diagrams of a bee’s internal organs, animated videos, webpages on biodiversity and the anatomy of British bees, and bee conservation tips.
Ready to play?
What better way to learn about our natural environment than immersing both you and your child in educational content while out exploring the undergrowth? What an opportunity to put your new knowledge into practice through nature play while practising conservation activities as part of your family routine.
Head over to our website for more information about our range of augmented reality products.
Even better, we donate 10% of the sale price to conservation charities via Work For Good for every purchase made.