Optimizing brain enrichment through positive digital screen time

Today’s kids are riveted by digital devices. Far beyond mere electronic pacifiers, digital media offers unique opportunities for kids to learn, while also having fun.

Research shows that the digital generation learns best through play. Learning is all about a child’s engagement level, both mentally and emotionally. Considering the fascination and skill set that today’s kids have with iPads, e-tablets, smart phones and gaming devices, the potential for high-level engagement soars. There are several ways that parents can optimize this opportunity for brain enrichment during their kids’ screen time.


Do

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  • review products
  • require product variety, including interactive e-books
  • grow skill levels
  • expand products into family time
Don't

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  • allow kids to go to sleep with digital devices
  • use devices as punishment
  • permit use for more than one hour
  • break the bank to buy devices
  • allow devices to be used while eating

Sherry Maysonave‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do review products

Parents should be involved in the purchase of all e-books, apps and games. It’s best to review products or read the reviews of other parents and users. Look for products that have educational value combined with entertainment features.

Do require product variety, including interactive e-books

While game apps are what many kids want most, it’s important to have a healthy mix of learning apps and e-books, along with games.

E-books are important because studies show that narrative is one of the best ways to ignite imagination, which is key to developing the area of the brain that deals with complex problem- solving skills and the integration of learning. Language development is also inherent in good narrative, specifically stories with expansive vocabulary. Another perk to e-books is that kids learn empathy through these stories.

Look for e-books that also include life lessons to help children succeed more easily on their life path. Many e-books also offer game components, such as finding fun facts, which are highly educational, while satisfying the gaming urge.

Do grow skill levels

Choose digital products that are appropriate for children’s age ranges and their skill levels, so as not to cause frustration. At the same time, try to scale up a bit to ensure kids are somewhat challenged, and be sure there is an ample quantity of things for children to learn and enjoy from any one e-product. If kids master the entirety of the book too quickly, they will be bored and unengaged.

Do expand products into family time

Take your children’s favorite apps, e-books or games into family time by discussing their most compelling components and personalities. Many can be adapted for family game nights or fun dinner conversations. For example, take key phrases from e-books and play charades with them. Have a “best-narrator” contest. Use smart phones to record your kids’ versions. Allow kids to add their own music or sound effects, or discuss what their choices would be. This is a fun way to trick kids into practicing their reading skills. Encourage imagination and thinking skills by playing “what if” they were the character in the e-book or the game personality, and ask how they would react to the challenges and dilemmas.


Sherry Maysonave‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not allow kids to go to sleep with digital devices

Studies show that the light from e-tablets, smart phones and gaming devices keep children and adults from generating melatonin, which is the deep-sleep hormone the human body naturally produces with darkness. Nightlights do not produce the same kind of light that electronic devices do. If kids enjoy playing a game or reading an e-book before going to sleep, have them use the device in a family room, and not in their bedroom. Alternatively, parents can remove digital devices from children’s rooms after tucking them in for the night.

Do not use devices as punishment

Let kids earn extra screen time as a reward. Refrain from taking away screen time as a punishment. The adult professional world works on a reward and payment system, and not a punitive, take-away system. Help your kids be motivated to “earn.” And remember, kids learn through play–and the best e-products for kids are educational tools.

Do not permit use for more than one hour

Super-learning studies show that every 50 to 60 minutes of instruction or gaming, kids need a break. This time is reduced for very young children, due to their attention span and brain development. It’s also helpful to require a product mix for kids who favor gaming to a high degree.

In their one-hour session, require a minimum of 25 minutes for e-books or learning apps, before they can play pure games. Tell children to go outdoors or do something different (other than watch TV or a movie) after their screen time with digital devices. Balance is healthy and helps to prevent addiction to the constant stimulation that digital media provides. Kids need down time to just ‘be.” Parents may need to enforce this or schedule such time without any digital activity.

Do not break the bank to buy devices

Kids can benefit from saving money for digital devices and their desired games, apps and e-books. Help kids create a reserve fund or even a “family kitty” for such purchases. Families who can afford it, may want to provide their kids with a device and several apps, as well as a certain number of new apps per month. However, if kids want apps that are pure gaming, with little or no educational value, make them save their own money to purchase these.

Do not allow devices to be used while eating

Aside from the obvious fact that liquids and food can destroy electronic mechanisms, kids need to learn social, conversational and relationship skills. The exception to this rule is taking such devices to restaurants where kids get bored easily and become disruptive. While out at a restaurant, require kids to talk and be social for the first 15 minutes, and then again when the food arrives. In between this time, and after dinner, allow kids to engage with their digital devices.


Summary

MRI studies show that the use of imagination and multisensory experiences increase blood flow to the brain. This is connected to neuronal activity, where new synapses can be created and dormant ones activated. Brains are not static; they can and do change. Help your kids become smarter by employing digital media as fun, learning tools, rather than electronic pacifiers.

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