From screen time to quality time

Picture: Diana 1234, Momio user from Finland

Picture: Diana 1234, user of Momio Finland

This post is a part of a theme week on screen time. It was originally published in the blog for Finnish Society on Media Education.

Follow the screen time campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter! Hashtags: #screentime #ruutuaika #skärmtid

Important discussion

When I browse Momio, a social network made for children, I see the diversity of kids’ lives. Someone proudly shares a picture of her drawing. Another one is nervous about going to the dentist but gets comforted by the others. A third kid quotes his favourite band’s lyrics and translates them to younger ones. Fourth one shares a picture from football training. Fifth one asks for tips on managing an annoying little sister. Sixth one rejoices over an upcoming holiday trip. Seventh one shares a Minecraft tutorial. Eight one shares her latest catch in Pokémon Go.

All the time spent on Momio and other social media is counted as screen time. There are many opinions about screen time and how to limit it, and it’s important to discuss them. Parents want concrete tips on how much computer, phone and TV time to allow their children. Kids on the other hand need limits set by grown-ups to make sure things don’t get out of control.

What’s more important than the time spent in front of the screen is what happens on the screen. There is a huge difference between mindless browsing and playing educational games. It’s also different to watch TV alone than to enjoy a programme with the whole family. There are kids whose only good friends are behind the screen: Maybe they can’t find friends at school but have befriended some online, and the online chat session is the highlight of the child’s day.

Content matters

A lot of things can be done in front of the screen. A friend behind the screen is better than no friend at all. Sharing a cool drawing might use up screen time but drawing it doesn’t – and if the screen is filled with positive comments, the kid will be encouraged to draw even more. Gaming and watching gaming videos improve language skills and problem solving skills. Hair tutorials, DIY videos and so on also encourage kids to do something off-screen. By the way, does braiding your friend’s hair count as screen time if there’s a tutorial running in the background?

The goal is a balanced everyday life: A good mix of physical activity, spending time with parents, playing with friends, relaxing alone and learning. All of these can be done without a screen, but all can also be done in front of a screen. The screen is a tool that should not get too much power. Like you can see from the examples in the beginning, the screen is often used for sharing off-screen events. That is a sign of a good balance.

We at watAgame make social media for children and we know that our Momio competes with many other mediums over the children’s limited screen time. That’s why it’s a matter of pride for us that the time spent on Momio gives something to the children. And it certainly does: Discussions, new friendships, sharing artworks, expressing opinions, learning about online safety and styling one’s own avatar help to build and strengthen oneself. Does that really need to be limited to a certain amount of hours a day?

About the author:

Silja Nielsen, watAgame

Silja Nielsen is Head of Community and Safety at watAgame. She has been a watAgamer since 2010. Silja has a master’s degree in Media Studies and is interested in privacy, online behaviour and online communities.