How do we balance gaming and screen time with off-screen activities?
Let me be clear. I’m not a gamer. But I do spend many hours looking at screens. What are the pros and cons of gaming and screen time from the viewpoints of education and health? And who is to decide what’s too much or just right?
As an educational consultant who speaks to parents about this topic almost daily, I must first say that I don’t claim to know the answer. But there is an answer for each family that can be discovered by both parents and children/teens as they communicate, research and negotiate. Working together with our children and asking them to participate to achieve a mutually acceptable decision shows respect for the children, values their input and gives them some responsibility for and ownership of the final decision. Having a starting place means we all agree to live by the decision until it is revisited and renegotiated.
How do we start the discussion? Depending on the children’s ages, they can be asked to look into the effects of screen time on overall health. How does it affect our eyes, our brains, our need for physical exercise and our mental health? What do companies do to maximize their hold on our attention? How do we feel after a prolonged period of time on devices? How does it affect our sense of happiness and satisfaction?
Parents and children can address the above questions and discuss the results of their research. Then the children can be asked to suggest a daily amount of time that they feel would be appropriate for them to spend on devices. Parents can give their feedback and voice their desires for the children to a certain amount of time outdoors in the fresh air, moving their bodies, interacting with people face-to-face, spending time with family members on off-screen activities. Negotiation happens, compromises on both sides are made and a plan that everyone agrees to is enacted for a given period of time, after which the issue can be brought to the table again. All parties are accountable and can be held to the plan. So it’s not “my mean parents” or “my sneaky kids.” It’s the agreement that is the enforcer. It’s not personal. It has been signed on to by all parties. It is followed until it is changed.
As for gaming, there is much to be said both for and against the activity. Children and teens learn a lot from what they choose to play, from communication skills to quick thinking and decision-making, strategy, interdisciplinary content based on the game, etc. It may lead them to want to create games as a career.
The downside is the addictive nature of gaming and its effect on our mental health. It’s hard to stop. The dopamine released into our bodies makes us want to continue. We may also experience highs and lows based on what is happening on the screen, whether it is gaming or social media. It may contribute to anxiety and sleep deprivation.
Every human is different and will be affected in different ways and to differing extents. It’s important to seek a balance, not only with the amount of screen time, but also with the nature of the screen time. A designated portion may be gaming, texting and social media. Another portion can be devoted to reading material to learn things, such as science or history, or creating art or music.
Creating a healthy balance for ourselves and our children applies to many aspects of life. Screen time tends to take up many hours of our days and be a challenge for all modern families. Finding the right balance for your family as a whole and for each individual in the family can be achieved when all members come together and create a mutually acceptable plan.
Peggy Webb is the founder and director of West River Academy, Dana Point, which is a private K-12 PSP that supports natural learning based on student strengths and interests. She has been consulting with parents and students for 30 years to help them achieve their academic and life goals. She can be reached through her website, westriveracademy.com.