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Speech & drama - an antidote to too much screen time?

Too much screen time is detrimental to kids...

We know too much screen time is detrimental to kids. Yet screens are here to stay in our lives and our kids' lives. So, what to do?

Firstly, let me start by listing a few things that this article ISN’T. This isn’t a scaremongering article. It’s not a tactic to frighten parents into joining speech and drama lessons. Nor is it a ploy to play on the insecurities and fears that we all have, as parents.

What IS this article then? It’s simply my way of being a part of the ongoing conversation that’s happening at kitchen tables all around NZ. The conversation about how screen time fits into families. A conversation that has many threads...

How much is too much screen time? What are the negative effects on kids and young people? What are the positive effects of screen time? How do you find a balance?

Most of those questions (in fact, the first 3) are outside of my area of expertise. But what I would like to talk about is the fourth question, regarding balance.

Balance between sticking our heads in the sand, and being over-protective.

Balance between ignoring the issue, and freaking out. Balance between how it was when we grew up and how it is now.

Evidence of the effects screen time has on youth

I came to write this article after stumbling across two unrelated articles in quick succession. Reading them so closely together prompted me to merge the ideas they contain together into this article.

The first article that piqued my interest was this one, that talks about the recent and first-ever New Zealand-based studies that show conclusive results about the detrimental effects of excessive screen time on New Zealand kids.

Why is this interesting? Because up until now, we’ve had to transplant overseas stats about the effects of screen time on children, and suppose that the same conclusions hold true for our NZ kids and young people.

The same day I read the above article, I also read this article, on the

Psychology Today website. The gist of this article is that screens are preventing kids from practicing social skills... “The more a child hides behind a screen, the more socially awkward he or she becomes, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. In contrast, a shy child who continually works at overcoming social anxiety is likely to overcome it.” It’s a strong statement, and the type of statement that prompts navel-gazing from parents, including me. Again, I stress that I don't include that type of statement in this article to raise fear, anxiety, or stress in you.

Quite the opposite in fact. Although the first half of that quote does ruffle my parental feathers, I am buoyed by the second half of the quote. The natural question to ask after reading the quote is, “well, what are things children and young people can do to “work at overcoming social anxiety”?

Speech and drama as an antidote to the detrimental effects of excessive screen time?

Now’s the time to address the obvious. We are a speech and drama company.

And so yes, I obviously recommend speech and drama lessons as ONE way that a child or young person could “work at overcoming social anxiety”.

But don’t worry, you’re not reading an infomercial. There’s no hard sell coming. In fact, here’s a link to some free speech and drama games that you could use with your child at home as an antidote to the effects of screen time. I certainly don’t think speech and drama is the only method to develop social skills and confidence either. Far from it!

Any activity - organised or informal - that encourages children to interact face-to-face and for a sustained period of time has the potential to be socially beneficial to that child. Situations and scenarios that get young people away from an online environment and eye-to-eye with peers, remove the safety blanket that the anonymity of the web provides.

The best environments (only my opinion) to provide an antidote to the negative effects of screen time for kids and youth are those environments that include inherent prompts and guidance towards social norms and graces. These places are fertile ground for social and emotional growth.

I include as examples of these; sports teams, music groups and lessons, adventure pursuit clubs, Scouts and Guides, speech and drama lessons, acting classes, dance troupes, surf clubs, etc, etc… the list goes on and on.

Why are they all fertile ground for social and emotional growth? Because the leaders, traditions, structures, and rules (both written and un-written) all guide youngsters towards ways of interacting positively, healthily, considerately and responsibly with each other.

And they do it in the flesh, face-to-face!

There’s no black and white answer

The reason the conversation about how screen time fits into families is ongoing and continuous is because there’s no one right answer. We all have to make decisions around ‘how much is too much’, what the negatives are, what the positives are, and where our values fit in amongst the whole tangle of threads in the conversation.

So, where do I stand, given all of the above?

I recognise that screens, technology, online games and virtual communication tools aren’t going anywhere. Other than to become more pervasive and addictive in our lives. It would be ridiculous to think we can shut our children away from that reality, short of packing them off to Nepal to start a sherpa apprenticeship. So to me, the keyword in the conversation is “balance”.

I accept that technology will play a part in our childrens’ lives. I also accept that some of that technology will have a denigrating effect on their ability to communicate in ways that we would traditionally call healthy, positive or polite.

And so given both those acceptances, I also accept that as a parent I need to provide opportunities and situations that can balance out the social negatives of screen time, and ensure that my children learn the skills that only socially-awkward but oh-so-socially-rich face-to-face, in-the-flesh situations can provide.

(Like speech and drama lessons)

Ha. Gotcha in the end with the hard sell :) The author of this article - Mark Laurence - is married to Head Held High founder Kate Laurence. He lives behind the scenes of Head Held High as its Marketing Manager, and wrote this article on two screens; a laptop and an iPhone.

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