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    Ignore this ‘blanket rule’ most parents use, says psychologist: It’s ‘more destructive than helpful’

    Excessive screen time for teenagers is a major concern for many parents.

    But not all screen time is inherently bad — and there is a technique to tell the difference between “good” screen time and the type that may obstruct your kids’ development, says kid’s media researcher Dr. Claire Christensen.

    “The cultural narrative that cutting back on screen time, just as a blanket rule, is at all times higher for teenagers is more destructive than helpful,” Christensen, a psychologist and researcher at Menlo Park, California-based nonprofit SRI International, tells CNBC Make It.

    Some health organizations advise placing strict limits on your kids’s screen time — recommending lower than an hour per day for youngsters between 2 and 5, for instance. But watching high-quality, educational content is nice to your kids’ development — teaching them necessary skills and emotional intelligence that may eventually help them grow to be successful adults.

    It may also provide overworked parents free time for household chores, work emails and even just just a few minutes of leisure, says Christensen.

    Her message to folks: There is no “hard and fast rule” relating to a set amount of screen time to your children — so long as you are intentional in regards to the media they’re consuming.

    What’s ‘good’ screen time?

    Christensen describes “good screen time” as content that is “giving your child something to take into consideration and socialize about” — and even inspiring play, from TV shows to YouTube videos.

    Educational content tops Christensen’s list of high-quality content, she says: “We’re searching for videos which are intended to show.” In 2021, she led an SRI study that found first-grade students learned “literacy and math skills” and improved their problem-solving abilities after watching educational PBS Kids content, specifically the series “Molly of Denali,” for just an hour a day over nine weeks.

    Many online videos concentrate on less enriching content while squeezing in a touch of educational value — like “unboxing” videos, says Christensen. Try steering children toward content “where the educational is an element of the story or the primary idea,” she adds.

    It also helps when the content encourages kids to participate, like characters asking questions to your children to reply out loud.

    “I do know it could be annoying to listen to Dora asking your kid ‘What color is that this?’ or ‘What do you’re thinking that?'” Christensen says. “But we love that. As a researcher, we would like to see anything that either is having kids talk back to the show or giving kids suggestions of other things they may do related to the show. Like, ‘After this, try sorting your personal blocks.'”

    Non-educational content can still be useful when it encourages social interaction and inventive play, which may aid your child’s cognitive and emotional development, she adds.

    “It’s screen time that’s in a roundabout way connecting them to people, or the world around them … even when it isn’t an explicitly educational show,” says Christensen.

    How parents can reframe their approach to kids’ screen time

    Once parents accept that screen time will be an efficient tool for raising their kids, and discover positive content, Christensen says the following tips may also help them rethink their approach to screen time:

    Release the guilt

    Letting your child enjoy and profit from their favorite educational show is not something to necessarily feel bad about. “If we’re walking around with a belief that ‘I’m only parent if my kid gets 10 minutes of screen time every week,’ then we’re not going to have the ability to think proactively,” Christensen says.

    Be proactive

    On the one hand, you need not stress over specific deadlines, says Christensen. Then again, you almost certainly don’t need your kids watching TV or a tablet all day, especially on the expense of other essential activities. 

    You could find a healthy middle ground by making a media-watching routine. Determine what you wish them to observe ahead of time, so you may keep on with specific shows and videos without scrambling for something to observe on the last minute.

    “If we do not plan ahead and have the tablet ready with the show that we like on it, suddenly our kid is on our phone watching goodness knows what on YouTube,” Christensen says. “So be prepared and be proactive.”

    Ask open-ended questions

    Kids do learn best when interacting with an adult, research shows. Watch together with your kids when possible, and ask them “open-ended questions” about what they learned and what they like in regards to the shows, Christensen recommends.

    “Parents are their kids’ biggest learning tool,” she says. “[Kids] may not understand that what they’re learning on the screen is real learning they’ll use in school, or that applies of their home life. So helping them make that connection can really exponentiate their learning from digital media.”

    Encourage kids’ connections to specific characters

    Your child can higher connect with high-quality content after they develop connections to specific characters, like Elmo on “Sesame Street,” Christensen says. 

    “Once your kid has a relationship with a personality, that will be a useful tool for you by way of teaching,” she says, adding: “They are going to learn more from a personality they’ve a powerful, what we call a parasocial relationship — sort of like an imaginary friendship — with than they’d from a personality that is unfamiliar to them.”

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