Category Archives: Screens

How can children make sure they are in control of screens rather than screens being in control of them?

I love my phone and laptop and I think I probably spend more time in the day using it than anything else. On the odd occasion when I don’t have my phone  with me or it’s run out of battery, I feel a bit lost as if I’m missing something.  How can I make sure as I get older that I control screens rather than them controlling me?

Extract from an ‘Ask Rachel’ article in a national publication.

You are not alone.  Most parents complain about how much time their kids spend in front of screens whether that’s gaming, scrolling through social media or aimlessly googling.  The truth is in many households, parents spend just as much time as their kids, if not more, glued to their phones.  So many of us get sucked in by that dopamine high that screens provide.  The software on screens is designed to be hard to ignore.  Just look around you on the tube or in Starbucks, where the vast majority of people whether they are alone or with others can’t resist the temptation to regularly glance at their phone, iPad or laptop.  I believe this is having a big impact on our relationships, be that with friends or family.  It can create considerable stress and tension.

There are so many wonderful benefits to online connectivity but getting a healthy balance and learning to be in the moment is a life skill.

Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Discuss openly with your family and friends, what you like about screens, what bothers you and how you would like things to be different.

  1. Build up a realistic picture of how much time you spend on screens and what for.  You could keep a diary for a week of screen use or just get an app on your phone that logs it for you and breaks usage down into categories.  It usually ends up being far more time than you anticipated.  Once you have done this, decide where you might need to cut back.  Are you getting enough sleep, time to complete school work, really connect face to face with family and friends, physical activity and time outdoors? What’s appropriate use also really depends on what else is going on in your life.  If you are in the midst of GCSEs and need to focus on revision, that’s quite different to the middle of the summer holidays when there is far more time available.
  2. Making small changes is so much easier when you enlist the help of others. Set some clear boundaries at home as a family.  You could potentially be a good role model to your parents!! For example, establish screen free zones: no phones during a family meal, in bedrooms at night or in the car.  Don’t be embarrassed to suggest the same thing to your friends. How often do you gather together at someone’s house or go out for a meal and spend time looking at your phones, as opposed to actually talking to each other?
  3. A recent study showed that teenagers who spend more than four hours a day on screens were 3.5 times more likely to get poor sleep.  It’s been well publicised that the blue back light interferes with the production of melatonin, which is a natural sleep hormone. Agree as a family to switch off at least 1 hour before bedtime and leave phones outside the bedroom.  Just seeing it lying on the bedside table (even if it’s switched off), can induce anxiety or excitement.
  4. Be mindful and conscious about what you are using your screen for and for how long. Set yourself specific tasks and time slots. If it’s to write an essay or complete a homework assignment on ‘My Maths’ then just use it for that and don’t allow yourself to wander mindlessly over to YouTube.  If you are using Snapchat to arrange a time to meet your friend, then just do that and don’t start looking at all the other messages you haven’t read yet. If you are watching Netflix, decide before you start how much time you have available and how many episodes you are planning to watch.  Give yourself mindful, realistic boundaries and see if you can stick to them.  Constant multitasking, flicking from one thing to the next, can lead to brain overwhelm, distraction and stress.
  5. Pouring over screens can give you a headache, sore eyes, back ache, affect focus, concentration and give a feeling of tension and anxiety.  Be aware of this and schedule time for a range of other activities that don’t involve a screen such as going for a walk, going to the gym, talking to your family, meeting up with a friend, completing homework, playing an instrument, meditating or engaging in a hobby.
  6. Actually brainstorm what you can do that doesn’t involve a screen, if you are at home or on the bus and really have nothing to do.  Again discuss ideas with family and friends about what you could potentially do together. Perhaps get out some board games, make a cake or clear out your wardrobe.
  7. In our family we have one screen free day at the week-end to detox. It provides a genuine opportunity to deeply connect with friends and family. It’s amazing how when the option to use screens is not even there, we can find other fun things to keep us occupied.

It’s not easy to resist that urge to pick up a screen. Make small tiny changes to daily habits, one step at a time. I guarantee your physical and mental health and your relationships will benefit enormously in the long run.  It’s much easier to start establishing these good habits now when you’re young.

Screen time rules for the summer holidays

It’s not the first time I’ve addressed this topic or mentioned it in my blog but in case you haven’t heard it before or if you never got around to it, here is a gentle reminder to create a screen time contract with your child.

The long summer holidays are creeping up fast. With less structured activity and routine, no homework or extra- curricular activities, there is a strong chance that children will resort to spending rather more time in front of a screen.  How can parents teach their children self-regulation and ensure they have a healthy balance of activities without resorting to nagging, repeating, justifying, reminding, threatening or shouting about screen use?  

There is only one method I know that works. I’ve used it with my own 4 children and suggested it to thousands of parents.

Make a screen time contract with each child, no matter what their age from the moment they can understand the concept of boundaries.

Parents need to set appropriate limits according to a child’s age, stage of development and temperament.  Studies clearly show that in homes with clear rules and limits around the use of technology, children perform better in school, are healthier, happier and have better relationships with both family and friends. There is no perfect set of rules. They must work for your child, your circumstances and reflect your family values. Parents need to put in some hard work to make this a reality but it’s so worthwhile.

How to create a screen time contract:

  • Sit down with your partner or whoever shares responsibility for caring for your child and discuss screen use.
  • Have an open conversation with your child to understand what they enjoy about screens and what they like to use them for.  These conversations need to happen frequently. You have a fundamental responsibility to understand and monitor your child’s behaviour online, just as you do in the physical world.
  • Explain that you are going to create a screen time contract and agree the rules together. Children must be part of the discussion and allowed to make suggestions. This is an opportunity for parents to both listen and consider their child’s perspective, be open and express any concerns.  The idea of this written, visible contract is to give children clarity and as much room as possible to be responsible so you don’t need to monitor or control their every move.  This of course is impossible to do anyway, whether you work from home or are in an office all day.
  • Rules must be framed in the positive.  Effective rules are about empowering your child so they know what to do and ultimately develop effective habits.

Core areas to address in the screen contract:

When:  e.g. after chores, homework or physical exercise.

Where: have screen free zones such as in the car, bedroom or meal times.

How long for: use timers or if necessary apps that shut down devices after allocated times up.

What: for younger children be very specific about which websites, apps, games, social media platforms & TV programmes etc.

Who: only communicate with someone they have met in person and no sharing of personal information.

How much: agreed budget to spend online.

Values: e.g. treat others as you wish to be treated.

Rules are worthless if at the same time you don’t agree in advance,  the rewards for keeping to them and the consequences for not.

Once the contract is written and signed, the last and most difficult part for parents, is to be consistent and follow through.  It can take a good few weeks to firmly establish these rules and get your child into good habits.

If the rule is no phones at the table, that applies to parents too!

Remember that around 80% of parenting is modelling.

Would love to hear how you get on. 

Read original article here

Screen Time Report is a Win for Parents

Review of RCPCH and Child Health Report on Screen Time

Earlier this month, the RCPCH released their report on screen time for children and teens and as a parent and a parenting expert, I am thrilled with the report. I know what was reported on the news and the way it has been spun. However, if you take out the rhetoric of the media and really read the specifics, it is quite empowering. It is asking parents to use their judgement around 4 criteria and make a decision that best suits each individual child.

Can you believe it? The RCPCH actually believes that all children, families and circumstances are not the same! Rather than being prescriptive and authoritarian, they are giving guidance and trusting in parents to be experts on their own children.

Here are the highlights of the report:

There Is Little to No Evidence to Show Screens Cause Direct Harm

The children using screens today are the first generation of digital natives. This means that parents of these children have to learn what their children innately understand. There has been growing concern amongst people in parenting communities in regards to screens (by this I mean the physical device) causing harm. As the type of screen we use today is relatively new, there was concern about everything from eyesight damage to causing obesity with regard to the impact. The RCPCH has said that as far as we are aware at this time, there is no scientific evidence that damage is done from the actual technology.

This is not to say that the USE of screens does not act as a secondary cause. It is obvious that overuse can have negative effects on children and adults. However, it is the USE that is the issue, not the screen.

Parents Need To Assess the Impact of Screen Time and Use Their Judgement

Whilst screens themselves are not harmful, parents need to be able to assess for each child how much time they should be allowed. This is child specific and not age specific. What parents need to do is think about how screen time effects their child in the following 4 criteria:

1. Is screen time in your house controlled?
2. Does screen time interfere with what your family wants to do?
3. Does screen time interfere with sleep?
4. Are you able to control snacking during screen use?

This takes into account that for many families, gaming is a bonding activity. For some children, screen time is the way they are learning about their world. For some families, screens lead to unhealthy eating due to the lack of mindfulness around what they are eating and when they are full. You, parent, get to decide the answers.

Screens Should Be Off Before Bed

The RCPCH has continued to advocate to turn off screens an hour before bedtime. Even a small amount of sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on a child. Sleep needs to be prioritised. The body needs to find a natural rhythm to settle into the sleep cycle. This starts before we get into bed. Having a screen free, hour long bedtime routine is crucial for strong mental health.

Parents Need to be Aware of Modelling Healthy Screen Use

Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher. They are constantly watching you to help them define what life should look like. Do you prioritise screen time over face to face interaction? Are you on your phone whilst at the dinner table? Are you able to put down your device with ease or are you aggravated when transitioning to the real world?

These questions are designed to bring an awareness to parents. Often, we fall into the traps that we see our children falling into. Make a point to show that you are putting tech away. If you need to change, do it as a family. Let them see that changing habits for the better is something that grown-ups do as well. This will have the most powerful impact on your family.

I would like to take a moment and thank the RCPCH for giving power back to parents. We do not need to pass laws on this or shame for change or rely on an outside body to tell us what to do. We, as parents, have the ability to rely on our own judgement based on facts and guidance from experts to run our family as we see best. It is so nice to see responsibility for parenting being given back to parents.

Mobiles: how to protect your child’s mental health

Article featured in The Telegraph by Naomi Greenaway, DEPUTY EDITOR, STELLA MAGAZINE

Read original article here

Scrabble, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit – that’s what I wanted to buy my children this year. But in reality, their wish lists were more Apple stocklist than 1990s Argos catalogue. Many parents will now have shiny new devices wrapped and ready for kids to open on Tuesday.

But buying an electronic device comes with a level of trepidation that ordering item 383/6754 on p854 never would. Perhaps it’s because, unlike the bicycle that might end up in the shed over winter, or this year’s wonder toy, which will probably run out of appeal (and batteries) by Easter, the screens we give our kids at Christmas are likely to have more profound and far-reaching effects. Games consoles, iPads and smartphones can end up encroaching on so many other elements of children’s lives – schoolwork, family time and sleep included. But most worrying, perhaps, is the power they can also wield over their mental well-being.

It’s an issue that’s been on my mind of late, as my daughter recently entered her last year of primary school, which according to the national norms means she has come of smartphone age. (Although this festive season – thanks to the majority of parents in my daughter’s class making a pact not to give our pre-teens phones until the end of the school year – it’s one device that’s been off the agenda.) Countless recent studies have linked the rise of smartphones and social-media usage with anxiety and depression in tweens and teens, the rates of which have skyrocketed recently.

It’s something that mental-health charity Young Minds, one of the causes chosen for this year’s Telegraph Christmas appeal, is working hard to understand. Many factors are at play when it comes to young people’s well-being, says Emma Thomas, the charity’s CEO, but the rise in social media is not to be ignored.

And it’s not only children whose mental state tips over the diagnosable line about whom we need to worry. It’s all those who are just missing that little spark of happiness, too.

Just a few weeks ago, England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, addressed the Commons and spoke of the ‘avalanche of pressure’ children and teenagers feel under to be popular and successful on social media. And a recent groundbreaking study by the University of Sheffield found increased social-media usage causes lower happiness levels in children. ‘We found that as the time spent chatting on a social network increased, there was a comparable reduction in happiness reported across several different areas of young people’s lives, which included their appearance, their family, their school and also their life overall,’ explains the study’s lead author, childhood psychologist Dr Philip Powell.

But most parents of teens don’t need the experts to highlight the power of smartphones and social media. One friend, mother to an 11-year-old boy who recently received his first phone, admits it has been the most challenging time of her parenting life. ‘Since he’s had his phone, his mood has been constantly up and down,’ she says of her son. ‘If he puts his phone down for five minutes, he feels like he’s missing out. Often the chatting goes on until midnight, then when he gets to school the next day he still feels he’s missed out. It’s heartbreaking to see how it pulls him down.’

‘My son’s groups get quite nasty,’ says the mother of a 13-year-old. ‘They post far ruder things than they would say, and my son can’t escape it even at home.’ Another mother describes how her 15-year-old daughter falls victim to FOMO (fear of missing out). ‘She’s a sensible girl but it’s constant,’ she says. ‘She’ll see a picture of her friends somewhere she’s not been invited to and it can change her mood for the whole weekend.’ Her 12-year-old son, meanwhile, spends every waking minute on his phone. ‘If I could turn back time and set boundaries from the start then I would. I want my son back.’

‘Once screens are in hands it’s much harder – although not impossible – to get into good habits,’ says Noël Janis-Norton, author of Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen Time. ‘But ideally set boundaries and expectations before giving a device, so it doesn’t become a source of conflict.’

Discussing screen-time boundaries on Christmas morning, however, doesn’t feel very ‘ho-ho-ho’, which is why Rachel Vecht, parenting expert and founder of, advises talking these over before the big day: ‘Make any reservations known beforehand – the potential for homework or family time to suffer – and ask children what guidelines they might follow. Get them to make the case. And you don’t have to ruin the surprise. Keep it hypothetical.’

So what are these habits and boundaries that will help your children live digitally healthy lives? Read on…

Stick to this one rule

‘My top tip if you’re a parent giving a phone or device for the first time is that it should be switched off in the evening and charged downstairs, not in bedrooms,’ says Sarah Berman, an ambassador for CEOP (the Government’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency) and a trainer at Young Minds. Lack of sleep has a big impact on well-being and physically switching off also gives teens and tweens the psychological switch-off they need. ‘There has to be somewhere that feels safe and private,’ says Prof Sonia Livingstone, a social psychologist at LSE, who has advised the Government on digital safety. Research also shows that blue light affects sleep, so turn off 30-60 minutes before lights out.

Have these conversations

From sexting to FOMO, it’s good to talk. Being honest about our own feelings, says Berman, helps children open up about theirs, and being non-judgemental and supportive is key. Janis-Norton’s advice? Be proactive rather than reactive: bust the myths of Instagram perfection before they sign up, talk about sexting before they have a serious boyfriend or girlfriend and discuss FOMO before they hit the peak socialising years. ‘Ask, “If you saw pictures of your friends on Instagram at a party you didn’t know was happening, what would that feel like?”’ It won’t make them immune to feeling left out, but it will create better coping mechanisms when those feelings do occur – and make it more likely that they’ll turn to you if they find themselves in trouble. ‘Research has found that teens who have a more satisfactory relationship with their parents are less susceptible to FOMO,’ says Janis- Norton.

Focus on their offline lives

‘Encourage balance in their lives,’ says Sarah, because any activities that boost self-esteem offline, will be mirrored online. ‘Higher self-esteem makes them less likely to be adversely affected by any negatives in their online lives.’

Don’t go 007 on social media

Should you follow your kids on social media and check their phones? ‘Lots of kids feel comforted by that,’ says Prof Livingstone. But going undercover, she believes, is a big no. ‘The whole principle of the parent-child relationship is trust, so snooping can do much more damage than good,’ she says. ‘They could end up creating secret accounts, change passwords or get a second phone.’ If you have serious concerns, ask for access.

Find the screen-time sweet spot

We know too much can increase irritability, hyperactivity, aggression and even depression, but how much is too much? ‘A certain amount of screen time may be positive for well-being – enabling communication, creativity and engagement,’ says Dr Powell. ‘But too much becomes negative. It’s called the Goldilocks effect.’ According to Prof Jean Twenge, author of a landmark study on this topic, the sweet spot is one hour per day for children aged two to five and similar limits – perhaps up to two hours – for school-aged children and adolescents. Prof Livingstone advises parents to be thoughtful when it comes to switching off. ‘Lots of games, for example, have an internal drama. If you walk away in the middle, there might be consequences in terms of relationships with friends as well as the prowess of your avatar,’ she says, and likens it to reading a book. ‘It’s reasonable to allow someone to read to the end of the chapter.’

Lower their dependency

‘Part of the way to handle screen time with less dependency is for children to earn it,’ advises Janis-Norton. That can be through chores, homework or music practice, but should also be linked to behaviour. ‘You get a lot of dopamine from electronics, which is why it’s so easy to become dependent on them. But when you get a dopamine hit without having to earn it, your brain processes the activity in the reptilian part of the brain, and it’s more addictive.’

Sign on the dotted line

Decide boundaries together, then write a contract, sign it and hang it on the fridge so it doesn’t get forgotten, advises Vecht. ‘Managing your and your child’s expectations will reduce conflict and help them to form healthy habits. Consider time limits and switch-off times at night, designated screen-free times in the week and zones in the house, guidelines around who they accept as “friends” on social media, what pictures they post and websites that may be out of bounds. Deciding these guidelines together will help them have a more positive digital experience.’ She adds, ‘It’s important for parents to commit to good habits, too. If you decide that dinner times should be phone-free, set the right example.’

The top three signs of mental health problems in your child
Dr. Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa explains:

As well as everyday worrying, those suffering with anxiety and can often come across restless and nervous and find it hard to concentrate.

Anxiety isn’t just about how someone feels mentally; it can cause a behaviour change and other physical symptoms too, which may include experiencing a shortness of breath or chest pain, feeling muscle tension and unexplained aches and pains. In some cases, your child may experience nausea or stomach problems
or loss of appetite.

It can lead to your child becoming tired easily but having trouble sleeping well. If you believe that your child might be struggling with their mental health, your GP should be your first point of call.

Gving your child tech as a gift

December is a month for giving gifts for many families and for most teens and tweens, that means tech. Children receive gaming consoles and phones and tablets and computers. They love their new toys and want to spend as much time with them as possible. Then, January comes and I get the same question from many parents. “How do I manage my child’s new tech?”

It can feel like we have created a problem for our children and for ourselves when we introduce new tech to them. We know that screen time should be limited, but we also know that tech is a part of their world and we want them to learn to use and enjoy it in a healthy way. Here are a few tips and tricks to help both of you enjoy the gift of tech.

Give Some Time to Play

When kids get something new and exciting, their minds are not receptive to learning boundaries and responsibility. It’s important for parents to have reasonable expectations. After all, you spent all that money so they could feel excited about getting the tech they wanted. If children feel ripped out of that excitement, they may build resentment. Giving them some time to play and explore lets that excitement level peak and then begin to subside.


The Timer Shall Set You Free

Set a timer for when you plan to have the responsibility talk. This may be an hour or at midday. Either way, let your child know that a time is coming to talk about what expectations you have around enjoying tech at appropriate times and how they will be expected to manage their time. Give a 5 and 1 minute warning to help them reach a save point and come out of their tech trance.


Create a contract

Don’t wing it. You need to make sure you and your child know what to expect and what the rules or boundaries are. Write a contact/agreement together which can be signed. This way, you can refer to the contract later should there be any disagreements around turning in phones at night or playing past a certain time. It should include what, where, when, how and who.


Focus on Responsibility

This conversation is the perfect opportunity to use descriptive praise. Let your children know how proud they should feel that they are now responsible enough to manage their new tech. If it is a phone, help them understand the responsibility around sharing information with their friends. Let this be a positive experience.


Be Honest About Checking In

There are many parental awareness apps out there that are amazing for keeping kids safe. However, don’t spy on your kids. Be honest with them. If you have apps on there that track their use, let them know. You are checking their usage so that they can be safe, not to catch them in the act. Let them know that as they get older, you will ease off slowly. I like to use the metaphor of the L plates for learner drivers. Tech should be managed through communication and connection not control and secrecy.


The Conversation Continues

Tech use, like many other aspects of growing up, needs revisiting and revising as children mature. Nothing is written in stone. If your child needs more responsibility, ease off a bit. If they need more structure, provide it. If they want to add a new social media app, discuss if this is appropriate and how it should be managed. If you notice something, name it and discuss it. This way, you are constantly emphasising responsibility and communication. When you emphasise the values you want to see, your children will rise to the occasion.

Protect Your Child From Cyber Bullying


November has an Anti Bullying Week! This is a time to bring focus to the pervasive issues that surround bullying. This year, Bullying UK is focused on cyber bullying. Many parents of teenagers, including myself, did not grow up in the world of social media. We are learning alongside our children skills like: online etiquette, privacy boundaries and the impact of a 24/7 spotlight on life.
The digital world can feel like a minefield for parents. We want to allow our children a space to be themselves without being overbearing. However, we also know how vulnerable they can be to predators, bullies and cultural influencers that may not be the best role models.

Here are just a few tips to help bully proof your children in the cyber world.

Graduate Their Privacy

Many parents feel that when they allow their children to have social media accounts, it’s an all or nothing. However, there are many steps that a parent can take to make sure their child is ready for the responsibility. Start on one platform where you are a friend. I would suggest making up a fake profile so that it is not obvious to your child’s other friends that their parent is on there. This way, you can keep an eye on what gets posted. If they have a video channel like YouTube or Musically, have a rule that you approve all videos before posting. Gradually, as they show responsibility, you increase their level of privacy.

Make Clear Rules and Boundaries Around Privacy Settings

This is an area where children become the most vulnerable. They love to collect followers and want as many as possible as social proof of their popularity. However, if they have no restrictions, the trolls will come calling. It is too easy to make a fake profile and become a cowardly abuser. Privacy restrictions bring accountability for users.

Teach the Power of a Platform

Trolls thrive on attention. If children engage with their hate speak, it gives them that attention. Teach your children the power of blocking, banning and reporting trolls. Starve the trolls of their attention and they will go eat elsewhere. Report the trolls and the powers that be will deal with the account. Dismissing them helps to take away the validity of everything that they say.

Talk About the Permanent Nature of the Internet

One of the biggest advocates for victims of bullying is Monica Lewinsky. Think what you will about her, but her life is a cautionary tale for knowing who to trust and what to keep private. Because she was recorded being chatty on the phone with a wolf in friend’s clothing, her life was changed forever. Flash forward to the cyber generation. Teens are posting and messaging private, intimate details and pictures to “friends” assuming that they will remain private, only to be horrified when those most intimate details are forwarded on to their entire year in a matter of seconds. People all over the world are losing employment and friends due to insensitive comments that they put in print years ago. Help your children by pointing out examples of all of this and constantly revisiting the conversation.

Self-Confidence is Their Biggest Weapon

Prevention is always more powerful than Intervention. Using Positive Parenting techniques to help your child grow up with a strong sense of self and an understanding and acceptance of values is the best way for them to become resilient. This is the best armor with which we can equip our children for battling bullying of any kind. They are less vulnerable when they define themselves rather than rely on others to define them.

Lead by Example

At Educating Matters, we know that a parent is a child’s first and most important teacher. They are watching you and learning from your actions. When you are able to effectively deal with trolls, limit what you post and behave with dignity online, they will learn to value those things as well. Show children from an early age how you edit and reword your posts. Ask your child’s permission before sharing a story or a possibly embarrassing picture. This will subtly share and bolster the values you have around making cyberspace as safe and positive as you can despite the choices of others around them.

What makes screen time educational

All parents know that dreaded feeling when kids are stuck inside due to rainy weather. Or when it’s the school holidays and there is nothing planned.  When they start to get cabin fever, it’s easy to let them hop on a device for entertainment, but what you really want is to keep them active and engaged, not zoned out. If you feel like you’re in a rainy-day rut, these online activities are sure to help you break out of it. These ideas get kids wiggling, creating, and having lots of fun all while learning at the same time.

Interactive Art

When kids are bored, they usually just need some inspiration to spark their imagination. Break out the art supplies and use the internet as a source of inspiration for new ways of creating. The Artful Parent helps you take art to another level, from lessons on technique to drawing prompts and activity sheets. Another great way to get their creative juices flowing that’s interactive is to play a drawing game. Art games are perfect for engaging multiple children, and they encourage bonding when mom and dad join in. For kids who want to explore different forms of art, art history, and art from around the world, check out the resources at Incredible Art.

Creative Movement and Music

One of the most difficult things about rainy days is getting kids to be active without running wild in the house. Online videos are the ideal solution to get kids off the couch and moving. Try an exercise video to build strength and balance while getting their energy out. Or your kids can groove to a variety of dance instruction videos, including classics like ballet and tap, along with some different ideas like hip hop or cultural dances from around the world.

Another fun option is to combine movement and music with imagination, all wrapped into one activity. That’s what Let’s Play Music does with classical music that’s perfect for fairy dancing (complete with dress-up costumes, of course!). This unique idea exposes kids to classical music, helping them develop an appreciation for it early by bringing it to life in your living room. You can also use the internet as a resource for free music lessons where kids can learn about rhythm and pitch and even learn to play an instrument.

High-Tech Pretend Play

Kids love pretend-playing grown-up jobs, whether it’s playing house, school, firefighter, or doctor. Pretend play is how kids explore their world, and it sows the seeds for dreaming of what they want to be when they grow up. Take their pretend play up a notch with interactive online games for exploring careers. For older kids, real estate lesson plans are great for bringing school subjects to life in real-world applications. According to Redfin, “Real estate is a complex field that requires skills in math, science, English, social studies and home economics. By incorporating real estate-based lessons into your curriculum, you can help students gain valuable skills in practical math application, presentation giving, forming a persuasive argument, earth science and so much more.”

Explore Cause and Effect

When kids want to do something fun and exciting, and you want them to do something educational, you can’t go wrong with a science activity. Set up your own science experiment, such as making a glass of “lava” from Earth Science Jr. These activities are easy to do with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, and they’re perfect for fostering an interest in science. Another idea for older kids is to use a rainy day as an opportunity to study weather. These Weather Watch activities from Scholastic walk you through weather tracking using the steps of the scientific method.


What kids may not know (it can be our secret!) is that these activities are as educational as they are fun. We sometimes think of screen time as being just TV shows or video games, but when you think outside the box, screen time can be a way to jump-start new ideas and exploration. Try these online tools the next time you need to shake things up.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Thanks to Jenny Wise

Is Fortnite Bad for the Teenage Brain? – JC Article

Read original article here

The screaming behind the door was frightening. Turned out the kids were just playing a game, shouting down the microphone excitedly to other online players. It went on for hours. The game was, I discovered, Fortnite Battle Royale, a free survival war game that had recently come out, and is now probably the most popular video game in the world.

Anyone with boys aged between around twelve and seventeen may too be despairing at how Fortnite has invaded their lives overnight, creating moody or zombie-like teens. Gamers are greeted with a rush of dopamine when they play, especially in the teenage years. The release of dopamine prompts the brain to crave more, thereby turning them into potential addicts.

The new game by Epic was launched as a standalone title, separate from the original Fortnite, which first came out last July. While the original cost money and was only available on PC, this later version is free and is available also on Xbox and PlayStation — hence the surge in popularity. Its overall player base has reportedly passed 45 million and that was before its recent launch in China. It is continuing to grow in popularity as developers introduce new content to the game including weapons, map locations and cosmetic items to keep players continuously interested, or rather, addicted.
This month Epic introduced Fortnite Season 4, its Twitter feed enticing gamers with the slogan “Brace for Impact”. Following its release, Immanuel College deputy head Beth Kerr, wrote to parents offering advice on how to handle the game.

She listed some of the some of the symptoms for parents to look out for, that indicated “a less than healthy relationship with gaming”.

These include:
Unusual preoccupation with the idea of getting back online to play;
Self-imposed isolation in order to guarantee uninterrupted play;
Feelings of irritability and restlessness when not playing games;
Lying about the amount of time spent gaming;
Persistent headaches caused by too much screen time;
Carpal tunnel syndrome caused by excessive use of gaming devices;
Diminished personal hygiene and poor diet;
Persistent fatigue due to lack of sleep.

Rachel Vecht is a parent of four, a teacher and consultant. She says gaming companies hire the very best neuroscientists to design games to be as stimulating and arousing as possible. There is also research that shows games can neurologically damage a young brain in the same way as cocaine. “The rush of adrenaline and dopamine they get from playing a game means reality becomes boring so kids can lose the ability to focus and even feel anxious or depressed.”

One of the commonly asked questions is how many screen hours should be allowed. “I am very reluctant to judge or be prescriptive to any family as each parent must do what they feel comfortable with, in line with their values. The number of hours permitted very much depends on the age and temperament of the child.”

Vecht believes that as parents we have a “fundamental responsibility” to understand and monitor our children’s behaviour online. That means teaching them how to “self-regulate” throughout their lives. “The best way to achieve this is through communication and connection rather than coercion and control.

“I advise parents to sit down together with their child and have an open conversation about what they use screens for, to establish some very clear screen rules/boundaries. This is the time to also determine what is the reward for keeping to the rules and the consequence for not.”

Jamie Rubin, a mother of three, is talking to educators and parents about ways to build children’s “digital resilience”. She is working on devising a cross communal plan — through a guidebook — for those kids, like her youngest child Eden, who will be starting secondary school in September.

“It is not just about educating children,” says Rubin. “It is well worth the investment for parents to learn more about the issues related to technology and screen time.

If many parents were on the same page it would really help with the battle screen addictions, social media, iphones, gaming etc.

“We can’t deny our kids access to cell phones and screens, like it or not it is part of ours and our children’s lives.”
“Creating healthy limits and habits are as important as communication and trust.”
“It is our responsibility as parents to make them as prepared as possible to use technology responsibly.”

Addicted to Fortnite – Sunday Telegraph article

Read full Telegraph article here

Help, my son’s addicted to Fortnite!

‘If he had his own way, he would be on the game for at least ten hours a day’

Ever since my 13-year-old son Alex began playing Fortnite, he has been stuck in his room for what feels like the best part of one.
The other night, I caught him smuggling in a takeaway; the prospect of breaking away from the tactical survival game, which he plays online with hundreds of strangers for hours on end, just to have dinner with his family, was unthinkable.

At weekends, with his sound-proof headphones on, he can stay in his bedroom all day, excitedly shouting instructions into the microphone.

When he emerges – usually around midday, having played into the night – he’s like a zombie. If he had his own way, he would be on the game for at least ten hours a day, stopping just for toilet breaks. Welcome to my new world.

I kick myself for ever letting him talk me into buying him a PlayStation PS4; Fortnite is available as a free download, hence its world-dominating popularity: “But it’s actually good,” he insists, “because it teaches you to be strategic.” I just want him to be strategic at doing homework.

Having started to mature into a diligent, ambitious child, Alex has turned overnight into the teenager I always dreaded bringing up. My son, I learnt last week, is a “gamer”.

I should be grateful he’s not roaming the streets at night with his friends, and that his zombiefication is happening somewhere I can keep watch. But his addiction to this one, all-consuming game fills me with horror. I fear he will soon claim squatters rights, saying he is entitled to play Fortnite whenever, forever.

I have sought professional advice; Rachel Vecht, from Educating Matters (, which offers parenting seminars in the home, tells me one of the most commonly asked question by parents in how to police a child’s screen-time – on their smartphone or at the gaming console.

“For most kids, banning screens altogether, or sleeping with the router under your pillow, is not the answer, just as I don’t recommend parents ban chocolates and sweets altogether. Kids tend to crave what they can’t have.” Besides, there will always be some new game or social media app that kids can become obsessed with. Before Fortnite, there was Minecraft and Pokemon Go.
“The question you should be asking is: do they have a healthy balance of time for other activities such as homework, socialising, exercise and being part of the family?”

At Vecht’s suggestion, I am implementing some new house rules.

Screentime (TV and phone) will be limited during holidays to four hours per day, no more than two hours in one go, and with an hour’s break in between. Playing stops one hour before bedtime, so Alex can “unwind”.

Advice for parents | How to protect your children from screen overuse

• Don’t use a digital babysitter. Babies and toddlers need a real caregiver, not a screen companion, to cuddle and talk with. There is no substitute for a real human being.
• Wait until your baby is two or three years old before they get screen time. And make a conscious decision about screen rules for them.
• Monitor your own screen time. Whether or not your children are watching, be aware of how much your television or computer is on at home – and how often you check your mobile phone in front of them.
• Ask your children about their real world day, but don’t forget to ask them about what’s happening in their cyber life.
• Don’t snoop or spy – studies show that children with overbearing parents just learn to be more secretive, and won’t turn to them when they run into trouble. In other words, be vigilant but not a vigilante.
• If you find inappropriate content, resist the urge to shut down or confiscate their device. You are depriving them of their entire support system. They need to reach out to friends. Let them.
• Finally, if anything goes wrong in their cyber life, tell them not to try to handle it on their own. That’s what parents are for.

On school nights, it’s half an hour on the phone, and just one hour on the PlayStation, and not unless all homework is complete. If this doesn’t work, then, after a warning, I will confiscate the screen from his bedroom. If that doesn’t work, I will get rid of the console.

I know other parents are equally despairing. One friend posted on Facebook: “I wish I never let my son have Fortnite. If I can spare someone else, please don’t do it!”

Nadine Wojakovski

How to stop children turning into zombies on holidays

Read original article here

Laurel Ives
10 February 2018 • 9:00am

Today marks the start of the February half-term “holiday” for most parents, and once upon a time that holiday consisted of opening the back door and pushing older kids out of it to roam their local surroundings.

But now all the world is contained in a screen. From Snapchat to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, games consoles and television, the lure of the phone, iPad and laptop is so potent that it has become a daily struggle for parents to get their kids to engage with anything beyond a selfie, snap or group chat.

Even when friends come round it’s common to find them lined up on the sofa staring at individual screens.

It’s such a headache that some parents turn a blind eye to teenagers lurking in their bedrooms, faces lit up blue. Screen time equals peace and quiet time for beleaguered mum and dad – and maybe even a moment to have a sneaky surf through social media themselves, or answer a work email.

Others deliberately seek out Wi-Fi free holidays to end the battles.

One friend told me that every half-term her family rents a cottage in Exmoor with an open fire and they all go for long walks with the dog; “It’s bliss as Exmoor has no Wi-Fi!” she said. Another recalled the time when the Wi-Fi broke in their holiday home. “The kids ended up playing Monopoly, cards and darts. We did quizzes. I think they may have even have had the odd conversation.”

Advice for parents | How to protect your children from screen overuse

• Don’t use a digital babysitter. Babies and toddlers need a real caregiver, not a screen companion, to cuddle and talk with. There is no substitute for a real human being.
• Wait until your baby is two or three years old before they get screen time. And make a conscious decision about screen rules for them.
• Monitor your own screen time. Whether or not your children are watching, be aware of how much your television or computer is on at home – and how often you check your mobile phone in front of them.
• Ask your children about their real world day, but don’t forget to ask them about what’s happening in their cyber life.
• Don’t snoop or spy – studies show that children with overbearing parents just learn to be more secretive, and won’t turn to them when they run into trouble. In other words, be vigilant but not a vigilante.
• If you find inappropriate content, resist the urge to shut down or confiscate their device. You are depriving them of their entire support system. They need to reach out to friends. Let them.
• Finally, if anything goes wrong in their cyber life, tell them not to try to handle it on their own. That’s what parents are for.

Yet if the Wi-Fi is working (and, let’s be honest, there are few places where it isn’t), there are ways to restore tech balance that don’t involve an unrealistic total ban. Increasingly parents are realising that limiting tech is a good idea as the negatives of phone use continue to stack up: from neck strain to weight gain to a decline in empathy, concentration and conversation skills learned from time spent actually face-to-face with others.

Anya Kamenetz is the digital education correspondent for National Public Radio in America, and her new book, The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, is published this month. “What you want to avoid is kids getting into the zombie zone, mindlessly consuming show after show and game after game so that when you turn it off you get this explosive reaction because they’ve been overstimulated.”

Too much screen time can leave teenagers overstimulated CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Instead Kamenetz recommends finding creative ways to use technology together. “Try to bring screens back into the shared space. Let’s say you watch a video together and learn the dance routine in the video and practise it together, the screen becomes part of the game.

“Or you’re going to bake cookies, so you find some tutorials on YouTube, you make the cookies together, and then you might even upload a video of yourselves making them. Maybe you’re going on a trip and you research a great video to watch that you will all talk about after. The goal is to hijack the fascination with the screen to explore an interest or activity together.”

Kamenetz feels parents are suffering from a lot of free floating, but sometimes misplaced anxiety around their children and the world of tech. “If your kid is in their bedroom on Snapchat, what is that really doing? Is it interfering with their sleep, or are their real world relationships not as strong?

“These are big issues, but the vast majority of kids are probably doing just fine. Social media doesn’t necessarily have to derail their lives. Be careful, talk to them and observe them.”

Negotiating the new world of screens then is about finding sensible limits, and making sure it doesn’t take over our lives. Build in some sacred screen-free moments, like at the dinner table or when you’re driving.

Many of the most important conversations I’ve had with my children have been behind the wheel of the car. Or find some shared family activities.

Thrill seekers: get out into nature CREDIT: TREE TOP TREK

I was surprised by how many of my friends cited family board games night as a way to have fun together. Says Claudia Courtis: “We play board games that are actually quite fun even for parents. I can recommend: Forbidden Island, Exploding Kittens, Code Names, Pass the Bomb, Qwirkle, Star Wars Labyrinth, Rummikub and Ticket to Ride. It boils down to giving the kids attention, offering to do something with them, being available, which is all quite hard to do when you’re keeping an eye on work emails at the same time.”

Unfortunately as parents we are also caught up in a muddle of work and social media on our phones ourselves – even when on holiday – and it’s tempting to use the kids screens as a babysitter. Rachel Vecht, a former teacher, mother of four and founder of Educating Matters, which provides seminars and courses in parenting skills, says what’s important here is modelling.

“Eighty percent of parenting is modelling. If you’ve said no screens at the table that includes your quick email to work, as whatever your child is doing is as important to them as our agenda is to us. We have to acknowledge that, and it helps children feel we understand them.”
Vecht believes in writing a screen contract in advance of the school holidays with incentives that everyone in the family has agreed to stick to. It’s enough to send your average adult phone addict into a panic.

“This half-term we are not going anywhere and lots of my kids friends are away, so I will sit down with them and explain that I understand they will want to be on their screens some of the time, but that we need to allocate times and brainstorm what else we are going to do, and come up with some ideas based on their passions. It’s about setting it up in advance, so that it’s all agreed. If you’re working during half-term then sit down with whoever is looking after your children too and make sure they understand the contract.”

Which is not to say that it is entirely the responsibility of parents to entertain their children. We seem to have created a world where children are so scheduled with extra curricular activities that they have lost the ability to potter happily about at home without the television or phone, and find amusement on their own.

One of the aims of organisation The Wild Network is to bring back this sense of free natural play and encourage children to spend more time outdoors in nature. When they surveyed parents to discover what barriers stood in the way of their children going outside, screen time was the number one issue they cited.

At a glance | Screen-time rules around the world

•UK guidelines, set out by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), recommend no more than two hours’ leisure screen time per day for children of any age.
•In the US, it is recommended that under-twos should have no screen time at all. Thereafter, the maximum amount of leisure screen time should be two hours per day.
•In France, it is illegal to market TV shows specifically at under-threes.
•In Taiwan, parents are legally obliged to monitor children’s screen time. They are fined £1,000 if they are found to be letting an under-18 have a screen for hours at a time.

Says Mark Sears, chief wild officer: “The evidence is really strong now that time in nature and outdoors supports children’s well-being in lots of different ways, and not only because it encourages them to be active. It also gives them tools to survive in the 21st-century like resilience, being resourceful, communication skills. This is not a historic sense of how we want children to be. Those softer skills support the whole child to thrive in the modern world.”

Yet rather than try to ban the technology standing in the way, The Wild Network has used it to effect change by building an app, The Wild Explorer, with fun ideas for outdoors activities ranging from 20 minutes, to day-long expeditions, organised by age.

“We’re using our apps to give parents little hacks and ideas for outdoor time. In the February half-term it’s cold, so this is not necessarily the moment for big expeditions. Start with a short bike ride or bird spotting in your local area. Even in our cities you can find something wild.”

And wherever you are, whether it’s the mountains of a ski resort or your local park, pause and take a moment to enjoy it, before you feel the need to document it with a photo or post.

As Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist, says: “If you see a mountain climb it first, then photograph it. It’s about finding balance.” Ultimately the world of tech is in its adolescence, and in a sense we are all stumbling through its maze, trying to find a path through it.

Kamenetz likens the digital revolution to the car industry in its infancy. “When people first got cars they didn’t have speed limits, and stop signs and seat belts. Gradually people learned, but it took a decade to make cars safer and we’re at the very beginning of that transformation.”

We’re not there yet, but screens are not cigarettes; we don’t need a total ban, just to set some limits and boundaries. Still roaming, but in a smarter way.