Consumption and Creation Screentime

Are kids better able to recognize emotions in others after being away from screens? The conclusion from these researchers that they are, doesn’t surprise me. You need to see faces to understand them.

At the beginning and end of the five-day study period, both groups of kids were shown images of nearly 50 faces and asked to identify the feelings being modeled. Researchers found that the students who went to camp scored significantly higher when it came to reading facial emotions or other nonverbal cues than the students who continued to have access to their media devices.

No surprise, and I have also noticed that my kids play sports much better if they unplug for a few hours before the games.

The bigger questions:

Kids and screentime. How much and what type?

I’ll start by saying that I believe there are a wide range of correct answers here, and there are the answers we use in our home which may or not work for you. Also, as you would expect my wife and I don’t exactly align on this issue, which is also ok.

We limit the screentime of our boys to less than an hour a day, with more time for gaming available on the weekends. But I don’t think the time limit here is as important as what we should consider more valuable screentime.

There are two great classes of screentime. There is Consumption screentime and Creation screentime. Consumption time is when you are watching a movie, playing a game, or scrolling through pictures or text blobs on a news feed.

Consumption time can also be broken down into things that are more or less social, or just solo events. Playing Fortnite with your buddies would be highly social consumption, while watching a movie alone would be far less social, but still of maybe some social value if you talk about it with friends later.

In terms of consumption, I believe parents should try to favor social consumption with other kids who your child actually knows. Especially face to face, couch gaming is the best. Playing with random people on the internet should probably be avoided unless you want your child to pick up a richly racist vocabulary.

Video games were always about the social aspect. Or I should say, the things you learn and experience playing games together are so much greater than playing alone that solo gaming behavior isn’t really in the same class.

That being said, there are many quality solo games like puzzlers, strategy games, and adventure games that can provide great screen experiences for kids. But…they can also become meaningless clicks to grab your attention for ads. Teach your kids how their attention is being bought with a “free” game. Make them wary.

But more importantly, focus on the Creative Screentime.

There are thousands of ways to do this, but start by working with your child and finding out what they are interested in. Making music? Garageband or a drum pad is a click away. Editing video? Building a game? Making a newspaper? All of these apps are available for low or no cost. I have spent a few sessions lately teaching my eleven year old Photoshop and it’s been a ball.

If you want to push your kids, don’t simply push them away from screens. Consider pushing then toward valuable Creation screentime. Because then they won’t only get the dopamine rush from unlocking a level, they will get the same rush but will be building and learning at the same time. There is something to show for the effort, something they own. And most importantly they learn how to build, the most cherished skill of all.

Lean toward the social, and creative, and don’t panic. And consider just not allowing public social networking apps at all. The risk is too high that kids will post something that will haunt them later in life, or even just see something that they will not be able to easily unwind from their eggshell minds.

Finally, the screentime available to a child should be in response to how they handle it. If your child is having issues at school, screentime should be the first thing to be restricted. If they are unhealthy and not active enough, get them a jogging app.

It would be helpful if parents could have this conversation without acting like screens are a fresh new hell on the planet. I grew up in a world where luckily I had a computer to create on, but most houses only had a TV blaring garbage ten hours a day. The world is actually a better place than it was, but only if you give your kids the opportunity to learn how to create in the digital realm.

Which will be the core skill they will need to survive in a post AI world.

Image from cited NPR article.

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