At PK Beans we spend most of our days focused on bringing play into children’s lives, as we believe play is the backbone to a healthy start in life. So, it isn’t surprising, especially during this time of social isolation, to be asked how parents can balance screen time and encourage active play.
The mother in me comes into this conversation as well, and the truth is what parents need right now is less pressure and no more guilt. We are all coping with so much in unchartered territory. There is no perfect answer, but what we can do is give parents permission to feel calmer by providing a new and appropriate approach to digital engagement in the COVID-19 context.
We need to take a look, not at how much technology, but WHAT TYPE of technology kids are consuming. It’s like what we eat. You’re not nourished the same when you eat a bowl filled with candy as when you eat a bowl filled with veggies.
In these extraordinary circumstances, we can’t pretend to offer kids a “normal” daily routine. We need to provide them the best possible resources we have available. When considering digital consumption it is better to put the emphasis on the quality of those activities more than the quantity (amount of time).
To define good balanced digital engagement, we can consider some concepts developed by Australian Psychologist, Jocelyne Brewer:
- Mindful: The digital activity allows kids to be present and aware of what are they doing. They can think about the actions they take on a digital activity and how they feel while engaging in that activity.
- Meaningful: The digital activity has a clear purpose and kids understand what they read, what they do, and what is asked for them. The content and actions they are engaging with are aligned with their values and needs.
- Moderate: It needs to be moderate on time but more importantly it needs to be moderate in the way kids react to it.
And to examine the quality of the engagement we can look at:
- Content: what information kids are consuming and what type of activities are they engaging with? Are they developmentally appropriate?
- Context: What is the motive of the tech? Is it to study, to play, or to learn? Is it done alone, with others, etc? Is it engaging?
- Cognitions: What thoughts, motivations, and intentions are present? Are they adaptive, maladaptive, helpful or negative?
- Function: What is the reason for the tech use? Is it to avoid social interaction, to fill time, to silence, etc.
The PK Beans Explorers’ Club, our new monthly subscription box, was designed specially with these elements in mind. The adventure club encourages kids to travel from storytelling through digital elements to active play. Our most important job as parents is to help children have fun, build self-confidence, and connect them to the world in ways that develop a healthy appetite for life. Stories provide opportunities for imagination which often leads away from the screen and into active play.
For parents struggling with the balance of screen time, home-schooling, and active play, my advice is simple. Take it easy on yourself, in the end, your children will remember how you loved them, protected them, and kept them safe. Keeping spirits up is the most important thing right now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home.
Traci Costa is the CEO and founder of PK Beans, children’s playwear. She is fiercely passionate about the benefits of unstructured free play in a world of over-scheduling and the growing concern of the endless technological distractions. Traci is on the Board of Directors of Playground Builders, is a Women of Distinction award winner, and received the Top 40 Under 40 award in 2010. She is a strong advocate for creating a culture that supports families and parents and was honored with the YWCA Outstanding Workplace award.