Time to ditch the term ‘screen time?’ One Chicago expert says it’s not very helpful

There’s an undeserved stigma attached to plopping a kid in front of a computer, Alexis Lauricella says, and that’s become clearer during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Alexis Lauricella, who heads the Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood Center, says “screen time” for kids often gets a bad rap.

Alexis Lauricella, who heads the Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood Center, says “screen time” for kids often gets a bad rap.

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If you’re a parent of school-age kids, you’ve probably been fretting more than usual about screen time as our collective coronavirus isolation drags on.

But you might be thinking about it all wrong, says Alexis Lauricella, who heads the Technology in Early Childhood Center at Erikson Institute downtown.

There’s an undeserved stigma attached to plopping a kid in front of a computer for an a hour, maybe two, Lauricella says. And that’s becoming clearer every day as stuck-at-home families appreciate the benefits of tablets, computers, smartphones and the like.

“My 2-year-old just FaceTimed with my mom, and they played peekaboo for 20 minutes. It was just giggling, and it was so silly,” Lauricella says.

But it helped her daughter develop crucial social and relationship skills in a way a telephone can’t, she says.

“There is a lot of research,” she says, including about 20 books on the subject of children and the use of technology and thousands of social science journal articles.

Rather than put a limit on the time children spend in front of a computer screen, Lauricella says parents should consider what they want their child to get from each session — whether it’s while doing math, learning yoga, taking music lessons or whatever.

She says parents should resist the temptation to yank a device from a child who’s reluctant to pull away from a screen, noting, “Most parents haven’t ripped a book out of their kid’s hands mid-sentence because they’ve been reading too long.”

Instead, tell the child to find a “stopping point, and give them some of that control to shut [the device] down.”

Lauricella, who has three school-age children, says one of the unexpected benefits of being home with kids during the coronavirus shutdown is that “a lot of parents now get a very clear view of what their kids are learning.”

Lauricella’s husband teaches seventh grade in the Evanston-Skokie school district and sometimes sends his students a news article to read, asking for a video recorded response. Those responses have often been surprising.

“The kids who haven’t maybe spoken out loud in class — or who kind of get drowned out in class — are now having a really nice platform to be the stars and be the leaders and be the first-responders,” she says.

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