Screen-time: balancing benefits versus perils for young children

Children need social interaction and collaborative learning. Picture: Pexels/Agung Pandit Wiguna

Children need social interaction and collaborative learning. Picture: Pexels/Agung Pandit Wiguna

Published Jun 22, 2022


Many parents needed the electronic nanny during Covid, the screen-time debate was virtually muted. The Oxford dictionary defines screen-time as time spent using a device such as a computer, television or gaming console.

The time has come to discuss how to strike the right balance when it comes to screen-time, as children continue their educational journeys online.

Colin Northmore, principal at Evolve Online School, discusses the three different kinds of screen-time: passive, active and cognitive. “It is important to ensure that the screen-time that a child is exposed to is a combination of these three and that schooling isn’t automatically considered cognitive screen-time when it is, in fact, passive screen-time”, notes Northmore.

Passive screen-time

Is when the person is watching a screen for entertainment reasons without interacting with the content physically or cognitively. Passive screen-time should be limited to one hour a day for younger children.

Active screen-times

Requires the viewer to interact with what is on the screen. Many computer games fall into this category. Online classes are considered active if the teacher’s process requires children’s full attention. Active screen time can be rationed at one to three hours a day. Grade 0 to 3 pupils should not spend more than 30 minutes in any active session.

Cognitive screen-time

Requires active engagement from the participant and should form the bulk of an online school’s teaching. Pupils can spend between two to four hours a day on cognitive screen-time activities.

Lastly, children need outdoor physical activities, and ideally, an online school should provide opportunities for such.

“Parents must carefully consider the approach of screen-time teaching in an online school or not. Screen-time cannot be regarded as valuable learning-time if it is mainly paper behind glass. Children still need social interaction and collaborative learning,” says Northmore.

IOL Education