October 23, 2021

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Screen time for children: Expert advice and why it’s not all bad

Screen time is a big issue for parents.

We worry whether our children are getting too much, if they are watching age appropriate content, and about keeping them safe online.

On the final episode of Be’s parenting podcast, Is This Normal?, hosts Sheena and Sarah spoke to Bernard McCloskey, Head of Education for NI Screen, about the benefits of screen time but also how to protect our children.

Bernard said we will all need these technical skills going forward for our jobs, no matter what area we work in, so being digital savvy is important.

He said as human beings, and particularly for children, we are attracted to screens that have movement on them, we are attracted to story telling and characters.

Talking about how parents should deal with screen time, Bernard said: “Things have moved very rapidly on the technology side over the last 10 years and more, when I started in this particular business I was working with very limited resources with teachers in schools.

“That has changed dramatically over the last number of years and I know parents and teachers do worry about the amount of time that young people spend on screens with various devices. The mobile smart phone is the one that has really changed everything in terms of accessibility.

“Like anything you need to start working with these devices early on with your children and introduce them in an organised way. I know I am making it sound easy but it can be difficult asking them to limit their time on it and only have specific times to use it but once they reach the teenage years it’s virtually impossible to police.

“What we try to encourage is to give young people and those working with them, parents and teachers, a set of rules and principles to work to so they are not going to be harmed by the activity.

“Even in my day my mother used to say to me, you are going to end up with square eyes watching that television, because I would sit watching tele quite a lot as a teenager, it is what you do, it is how you gain your information about the world. So you can learn an awful lot through these devices, they are channels to the rest of the world, but obviously good and bad can come via those channels so you’ve got to be careful.

“What you really need to do is provide children with the skills to be able to interpret and know when things could be dangerous or they could be getting into dangerous areas and to try and avoid that and teach them how to do that and have an understanding about the harms that can happen to them as well is the important thing.”

He said children in primary school now learn about how to write code and develop their skills from there. By the time they are in secondary school they have a good understanding of how it works and the importance of when they are watching something, asking questions and understanding their role as an audience member in the equation.

Bernard also told the podcast that things were changing rapidly and it could be scary for parents, but the best way to deal with it was good education in relation to the fast-moving future that is ahead of them.

Chatting on the podcast about his advice for parents on choosing appropriate movies and programmes for kids, Bernard said: “My advice would be to sit and watch it with them and check it out as a parent and see if it is appropriate for their age and whether they’ll understand what’s going on.

“If there’s stuff that worries you and you think no, then maybe they shouldn’t be watching this until they’re a little bit older.

“So check it out first, if you can’t watch it, read up about it on the internet. There’s always very good information on the internet.”

To hear more on the programmes that are available through NI Screen for children and the types of roles and skills that are needed in the industry, listen to the full episode.

Series 2 of Is This Normal? is packed with advice from experts on a wide range of parenting topics.

There are seven episodes now live covering sleep, pregnancy in the pandemic, first aid, breastfeeding, play, nutrition and NI Screen.

Listen and subscribe to Is This Normal? on Spotify, Google Podcasts, ApplePodcasts and Deezer.

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