Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children, Me to We and We Day. Find out more at we.org. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
We love hearing preteens praise the uber-popular video game Minecraft to their parents. "It's like Lego on a tablet," kids explain.
The elder participants in this conversation often wonder, What's wrong with the low-tech version?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has moved a step closer to embracing today's tech world. The esteemed group has announced that it is rethinking a long-standing ban on screen time for tots under the age of 2, and the recommended maximum of two hours a day for teens. (No word from the Canadian counterpart on plans to revisit its standards.)
Critics charge that the health risks of excessive screen time – sedentary lifestyle, sleep disruption, behavioural problems – have not changed. And despite decades of expert advice and guidelines, Canadian toddlers watch 90 minutes of TV a day, and tweens and teens average a whopping eight hours of screen time each day.
Technology has changed since the U.S. pediatric standards were last updated in the early days of text messaging about 16 years ago, when the No. 1 TV show was Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Smartphones, social media and other new technologies have made screens an inescapable part of our daily experience. They also offer educational benefits.
Research shows that technology mimicking live human interaction – as opposed to passive TV watching – can be healthy for children's intellectual growth. For instance, Skype lets Marc read to his young daughters every night before bed, regardless of what country or time zone he is in.
Instead of haggling over standards, perhaps it's more helpful to brainstorm about healthy ways that make the most of children's and teen's screen experiences.
The best parenting advice comes from parents. So share your screen-time negotiation tactics, strategies for fostering healthy social-media habits, educational apps you love and other means of mining the most from the screens all around us.
This week's question: How can parents ensure that the quantity and quality of their kids' screen time is as healthy as possible?
Joelene Huber, professor of pediatric medicine, University of Toronto
"Implement a system where kids earn a token for 30 minutes of screen time when they have done at least an hour of physical activity, like free-play outdoors, or completed their homework, or chores."
Matthew Johnson, director of education, MediaSmarts, Ottawa
"Co-view with your kids as much as possible and discuss the issues you see, to promote media literacy from an early age on body image, advertising and portrayals of gender and diversity that come up in kids' media."
Natalie Locke Milne, editor-in-chief, SavvyMom.ca
"A few of our favourite, mom-tested apps right now are the Reading Rainbow Skybrary, with more than 500 books and educational video 'field trips' for rainy afternoons, Lala Lunchbox that helps kids plan their own lunches, and the interactive Human Body by Tinybop."
Have your way in the comment section.