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Make Screen Time Quality Time

Tips from the creator of JoJo & Gran Gran

By Laura Henry-Allain MBE

Storyteller, educationalist, producer and consultant

When I see a headline about screen time, I think to myself ‘here we go again, another article piling the guilt on to parents’. Screens are an unavoidable part of our everyday lives, so rather than saying a big no to all things screens for children, we should be focusing on quality rather than quantity.

As a starting point we should reframe the term ‘screen time’, which screams negativity for many families. Instead, let’s refer to what the child is doing; for example, having a conversation with grandma via a video link, playing a game on a phone or watching a favorite episode of JoJo and Gran Gran (naturally!) on television. This helps parents to reflect that not all screen time is negative.

Depending on the age, stage and ability of your child, you may wish to have a conversation with them about how they are using electronic devices. For example, you could ask, ‘Would you like to watch a programme on the television, or would you like to play a game on the phone?’ This can teach kids to see that each type of screen use has a different role. Discussions like this also increase their language development while improving their relationship with digital use.

As with all things parenting, the activities and experiences that your child takes part in are based on your views and values – this also applies to screen time. For instance, many parents feel more comfortable making screen time a family activity. In fact, a recent study by Taren Sanders et al (Study of Studies) showed that screen time can have a positive impact on children’s literacy skills if parents co-viewed with their child.

Of course, it may not always be possible to share screen time with your child. As a parent I have allowed my children to watch child-safe television by themselves, for instance while I was preparing dinner or finishing some work. Don’t feel guilty about this but instead use it as a teachable moment, negotiating with your child on the type of screen and how they will use their time. After they have finished, you could discuss with them what they saw and their favorite bits.

Above all, make screen time work for you and your child, depending on where they are with their learning and development as well as your values as a parent.

Top Tips

Set a routine.

Try to have a set time during the day when your child uses screens. You may wish to decide this as part of a discussion with them.

Follow your child's interests.

Suggest television shows, child-safe apps, suitable websites or digital games that reflect these interests.

“Make screen time work for you and your child, depending on where they are with their learning and development as well as your values as a parent.”

Spark a discussion.

Use open-ended questions at the end of their screen time; for example, ‘Why did this happen? How did this make you feel?’ This will help to expand their knowledge on different topics while also providing quality time to talk together about their interests.

Ensure it’s child-safe.

If children are using screens independently, make sure the security settings are turned on and up to date so they don’t have access to inappropriate content.

Make it interactive.

Screen time doesn’t have to be passive. For example, you could allow children to use screens to create their own content. They can record and edit an experience that they enjoy such as going to the park. They can then share their content with family members.

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Laura Henry-Allain MBE is an award-winning international storyteller, educationalist, producer and consultant.

She is the creator of the well-loved, award-winning JoJo and Gran Gran global series, developed and produced by CBeebies, and is the series’ associate producer.

Laura is also executive producer on a few shows that are currently in development, including Daddio & Co. Her other children's books include My Skin, Your Skin, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu, and My Family, Your Family, illustrated by Giovana Medeiros, which enables children to talk about relatives, love and belonging. Laura’s new children’s book Maya and Marley celebrates the world of two siblings and will be published in July 2024.

Laura is the vice president of The British Association of Early Childhood Education and a board member of the Children’s Media Foundation.

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