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Screens - Do They Help Or Hinder?

Tablets, phones, computers, televisions. These screens have become ubiquitous in modern culture. We all know somebody (or are somebody!) who can't get by without a screen always nearby.

Back in the 80s and 90s, many educators saw the potential for these types of tools to be used for education purposes. Nowadays, app stores are filled with educational games, puzzles, and all sorts of engaging programs that encourage and gamify the learning process.

Music App On Smartphone

There are many that are even geared toward music learning! Some of these apps are better than others at teaching music theory and ear training skills, musical notation, composition, form, and practice skills. But how much should we be relying on apps to teach these concepts?

There are several studies which now provide evidence suggesting that screen time for very young people, and especially for extended periods of time, can actually do more harm than good, by inhibiting normal cognitive development. It's important that we encourage children to learn new concepts, but we must be cautious that we don't instill impatience at the same time, when off-screen activities don't provide the same dopamine rush as activities on screen.

The biggest takeaway I've seen in many articles on the topic is that it's important to set limits for children, especially those under the age of 2 or 3. Beyond that age, it becomes important for reasons outside of basic brain development. Many articles also suggest that parents find ways to share the screen with their children, regardless of age, to encourage healthy behaviors and provide a wonderful bonding experience.

Mother and daughter use laptop together

If we want children to develop structure, self-discipline, and hard skills that exist off-screen, it's important to use screen time as a reward for a limited amount of time, once other, more pressing activities have been attended to. Many families now institute an hour a day after school of tablet, phone, or computer time, and only once homework, chores, and instrument practice are done for the day.

In this way, screen time can be a motivator and a great way for children to play, unwind, and improve cognitive and fine motor skills, without developing a problematic responsibility avoidance strategy. Educational apps can be a wonderful supplement to music lessons, and can offer support in areas where a young student needs a little extra time.

While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing educational apps out there, nothing can take the place of practicing piano, guitar, or violin, with an actual instrument in hand. And until schools put homework into math and science apps, those problems and projects aren't going to be finished on a smartphone!

How about your family? What do you do to encourage a healthy balance between responsibility and play, and between high tech and low tech?

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