Studies show that children today spend over 1,400 hours a year with screens. That’s more time than they spend at school or with their families.
As an educator innovator and one of the country’s leaders in developing screen-based programs for students, Northbrook resident Nicole Dreiske often hears from parents and teachers who are panicked about the negative impact screen time is having on young children, while also acknowledging that policing digital activity 24/7 is impossible.
Faced with this growing conundrum, and convinced that screens could be used for good, Dreiske penned the newly released book, The Upside of Digital Devices: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart, Literate, and Emotionally Intelligent, a new handbook for parents of children aged 2-6 that recently earned the National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval.
Dreiske will speak about her new book at the Book Stall in Winnetka on May 12 and the Northbrook Library on May 24.
“The only dialogue we have now is ‘turn it off,’ ” said Dreiske. “What parents and teachers need to do is move away from this state of ‘the sky is falling’ panic and ask a completely different question,” Dreiske told DailyNorthShore. “What would a great relationship with screens look like?”
The book’s inspiration, said Dreiske, who heads up the International Children’s Media Center (ICMC), came from parents wanting a new way to engage with children about screens. The solution to screen time, Dreiske suggests, is not policing or protecting children, but rather, preparing them for life in the digital age, where devices are omnipresent.
Through data collected from conversations with more than a thousand parents and teachers, Dreiske concluded that meaningful parent-child discussions about screens helps kids develop their own filters and controls.
“What’s happening now is parents participate in non-screen activities with kids throughout the day, and then reward children with an hour of screen time by themselves,” said Dreiske. “We keep sending this message that screen time is an adult-free zone. That’s the wrong way to habituate screens.”
Although Dreiske has decades of experience working with youngsters in classroom settings, it was her role as founder of the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival – the largest international children’s film festival in the United States – that prompted Dreiske to create a new dialogue around digital devices.
Over the course of the film festival’s 35-year history, Dreiske has screened nearly 28,000 films with up to 600 kids a week. Dreiske and her colleagues made it a habit to engage with young movie goers at festival screenings, asking questions and discussing a film’s thematic elements right before the theater lights came down.
“We were contextualizing the viewing process and bookending it with positive interactions with adults,” said Dreiske. “I began to think, why couldn’t we do that at home, with digital devices?”
In The Upside of Digital Devices, Dreiske provides an outline for helping parents and teachers promote digital media literacy skills for children aged 2-6. One tool Dreiske recommends is sensory co-viewing with young children, like watching a You Tube video together or guiding a child through a new app.
“You sit and you cuddle with your child during screen time,” said Dreiske. “Don’t turn on the screen until you talk about what you’re going to be watching.”
By creating a dialogue with a child around screen time, Dreiske suggests, children will be far more likely to come to a parent when they see something disturbing, rather than confide in another a child or suppress it.
“If you actively engage, you’ll have a finger on the pulse of what your child is feeling or thinking,” said Dreiske. “You create a much better emotional bond, and you’ll have a feeder of information so your child knows the door is open to come and talk.”
Dreiske also suggests parents use digital devices in the same way they would use story time: to build literacy and communication skills. Plot, character, and setting, says Dreiske can all be taught and reinforced during screen time, even if a child watches a video, television show, or movie alone.
“I am absolutely not saying you can’t give your child a tablet and go make dinner,” said Dreiske. “I’m suggesting you give them a fun job before they start viewing.”