To “screen” or not to screen.
That is the question that Manatee County parents of elementary kids, tweens and teens must resolve for themselves this summer as youth with time on their hands can be drawn deeply into their phones, tablets and laptops.
One expert has come up with some chilling facts for parents to consider.
Children are receiving 400 percent more screen time than they should, according to Dr. Robert Melillo, co-founder of Brain Balance Achievement Centers, which can be researched further at brainbalancecenters.com.
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“The average kid has 7.5 hours of screen time per day, compared to the recommended 1.5 hours,” Melillo said in a recent news release. “Studies show that excess screen time inhibits right brain development, leading to short attention spans and inhibited social development.”
Among Melillo’s solutions to reduce screen time is what he terms, “screen free academics.”
“Many parents turn to educational apps to feel better about screen time, but a screen is still a screen,” Melillo said. “To encourage traditional childhood learning, present your kids with an array of books or take them to museums.”
Yana will be ‘booking,’ not screening
Many Bradenton parents seem to be taking Melillo’s advice.
One day last week, Bradenton’s Tomeica Stephenson, who is starting her career as a pre-kindergarten teacher at Samoset Elementary School this fall, was in the Central Branch of the Manatee County Public Library with her husband, Everton, and 2-year-old son, Benjamin, helping their daughter, Yana, 6, borrow books for summer reading.
I think reading a book helps kids in all areas of their education, especially in writing. It helps them in their imagination and they need that these days in the classroom.
Bradenton’s Tracy Beckner
“It’s bad for their social skills,” Stephenson said of kids being in front of screens for endless hours. “It doesn’t give them enough time to learn how to speak, socialize and engage with anything other than a computer, which, by the way, is bad for their eyes.”
“It takes them to a place that is not necessarily engaging, or, maybe I should say, uplifting for them educationally,” Stephenson added. “But when they are with books, they learn things that will help them explore more and become better citizens in our society. It helps them to read better, to become fluent readers, which can help them with their speech and with their cognitive development as well.”
Tracy Beckner of Bradenton is also opposed to children being glued to a screen. She was in the library last week with her daughter, Emma, 11.
“I think reading a book helps kids in all areas of their education, especially in writing,” Beckner said. “It helps them in their imagination and they need that these days in the classroom.”
Emma is allowed a moderate amount of screen time per day on her phone. She enjoys social media during that time, including Snapchat, Instagram and a relatively new app called Musical.ly, where kids post videos of themselves lip syncing.
“My philosophy is minimal screen time,” said former Bradenton resident Bonnie Craven, visiting the South Florida Museum in Bradenton last week with her son, Will, and other family members. “They have to earn it. They need to be outside. Especially boys.”
Another South Florida Museum visitor, Paul Campana, from Georgia, said he allows his daughter, Nicole, 5, to play Minecraft on her tablet, but he regulates it closely.
“I do think it can be harmful, but I also think it’s OK in limited amounts,” Campana said.
Manatee librarian calls for ‘balance’
One would think that Renee Stokes, the youth librarian at the Central Branch of the Manatee County Public Library, where an entire world of fun summer events lay in store for children who put down their screens, would be even more anti-screen than the parents.
But Stokes has a “don’t throw out the baby with the bath water” philosophy.
“It depends on what they are doing on there,” Stokes said last week. “If it helps them become better students, it’s not a bad thing. But if they are just on social media, then they do need to get out into the real world.”
It’s bad for their social skills. It doesn’t give them enough time to learn how to speak, socialize and engage with anything other than a computer, which, by the way, is bad for their eyes.
Bradenton’s Tomeica Stephenson
Stokes uses her tablet as an educational resource and she doesn’t have a problem if kids are doing the same thing, she said.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing because I am addicted to my tablet, too,” Stokes said. “I do a lot of stuff on my tablet. I do coding on my tablet. I read the newspaper and books on my tablet. So, it’s not a bad thing to be using your tablet.”
“Technology is the world we live in today,” Stokes added. “It’s the way it is. What I like is that everything is available for you on the screen. To me, it helps kids be more well-rounded. If you don’t know something, you can just pick up your phone and find out about it. Still, I do believe there’s got to be a balance between screen time and book time.”
Libraries and museums take down screens
For parents who decide to go with Melillo this summer, Kelly Foster, a marketing specialist at the Manatee County Public Library, has created the library’s seven-page Summer Youth Program Guide along with rounding up the hundreds of fun and educational activities that fill its pages.
“We took a ‘Build a Better World’ theme and our librarians have scheduled programing on building new skills or just building,” Foster said.
All parents need, if they don’t have the actual guide, is to hit this link: http://www.mymanatee.org/home/government/departments/neighborhood-services/library/library-calendar-events.html
One of the exciting attractions is “Area 52” in the upstairs “maker’s space” of the Central Branch of the library.
“In Area 52 they can get off their screens and learn the stuff behind the screens,” Stokes said. “They can learn how to code, create their own video games. They can learn art. They can do movies. It’s an extension of things they already do but we break it down to the very basic. They will learn the coding behind their favorite apps.”
Like Foster at the library, Brynne Anne Besio, director of the South Florida Museum, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton, also has a remedy for screening in the form of interesting summer activities.
Parents are urged to hit this link to dive into the museum’s offerings: http://www.southfloridamuseum.org/special-events/.
Melillo also recommends enrolling children in “screen-free” summer camps that include arts and crafts, musical theater, dancing and sports, like swimming and soccer.
“We present the opportunity for kids to see animals in real life,” Besio said of the South Florida Museum, which is hosting Snooty’s 69th Birthday Bash & Wildlife Festival beginning 10 a.m. on July 22.
“What’s better than seeing Snooty, our manatee, and his pals in the aquarium eating lots of lettuce and giving a thrill to the public who discover that manatees really do have a personality,” Besio added.
Perhaps that is something that a child could never learn from a screen.