Wanderlust: Expat Life & Style in Thailand The Relationships Issue - Page 41

Kids & Education

Sensational headlines claiming that screen time is more addictive than heroin are naturally worrying to parents . But perhaps it ’ s more beneficial to consider the experiences children might lack if screens rule a child ’ s time — experiences which would occur during the neurologically critical period before synaptic pruning , when their brains are most primed for learning .
It is likely , then , that a child will be in a better position to lead a successful life by avoiding too much time with one particular type of sensory input , such as a screen . Yes , it is important that children become familiar with new technologies and are able to socialize with their peers . But this is no more important than socializing with friends the old fashioned way , so they can learn about body language , team work and everyday human interactions .
If the secret is in variety , what can parents do to ensure their children partake in a healthy mix of stimuli ? Extra-curricular activities could certainly assist . Whether it ’ s sports , dance , music or cooking class , brain-expanding learning opportunities help children develop in a well-rounded way . And , these activities — rather than distracting from academic achievement — actually tend to improve academic performance . As one example , playing in a ukulele group really does improve chances of a top grade in geography , so there ’ s nothing to lose by trying this route .
Put simply , screen time should find its place within a variety of experiences , and children shouldn ’ t spend longer on their screens than they do participating in other activities , be that homework , outdoor play with friends , or engaging with their families over dinner . Though it would be convenient to declare an amount of time that can be universally applied to all children , this would ignore the truth that all children ( and all situations ) are not the same . As unhelpful as this conclusion may be , the right balance has to be a personal decision for each family .
But balance is clearly a measure of more than just time spent . A child spending a mere five minutes in his or her bedroom on social media without guidance and internet filters could easily be five minutes too long . Regrettably , I ’ ve encountered many cases of friendships and reputations in tatters for the sake of a momentary lapse in judgment . In dealing with these cases , I have become only too aware that modern technology presents a level of risk that just did not exist when the parents of today were children . As children in the 20 th century , we were free to say or do things with our friends to regret later at our leisure , without fear of its permanent record circulating around the world . Tarnishing social reputations is just one of the many possible negative side effects of unsupervised time spent engaging with smart devices — others can be much more dire .
However , there is a danger in demonizing a technology that is becoming a fundamental part of their lives . My own children are approaching an age during which the messages they receive from peers carry far more weight than what their parents may say . The moment we start imposing restrictions without explanation is the moment children begin looking to others for advice .
So what can we do to increase the chances our children and teenagers will self-regulate their use of screen time ? One method that you may find helpful is what our family calls The Grandma Test . When we bought our children their first devices , we had a conversation about potential dangers and why it was a good idea to set protective rules . These included : asking permission first ; using devices downstairs and not alone in their bedrooms ; sharing with Mum and Dad what they are doing with their devices ; and always applying The Grandma Test , which states : If Grandma could see everything you are doing , would she approve ?
As much as possible , we try to give our children autonomy about how they use their devices , focusing on the positives they bring . In fact , we regularly find excuses to use the gadgets together , making it something we do naturally as a family , rather than something done secretly . This gives us the opportunity to help our kids navigate risks and prepare them for a time when we as parents are not there to guide .
An interesting side effect of this process was that our children raised issues about our own usage . We now have a ban on devices at the meal table or other family events such as going out for afternoon tea or game night . The take-home point ? Children are far more influenced by behavior they observe than the rules and warnings that they hear .
If you are distracted by your phone , when your children are trying to engage with you , don ’ t be surprised to find the same happening when you want to engage with your children . By managing your own screen time , you have a far better chance of educating your children to do the same .
Jon Winfield is a father of two and Deputy Head of Senior School at Brighton College Bangkok , following 20 years as an Economics teacher and Houseparent in the UK independent sector .
Do you have a question about kids and education ? Write to education @ wanderlustmag . com and a response to your question may appear in an issue of Wanderlust Magazine .