As much of Australia grapples with lockdown, parents are fighting a losing battle to drag their kids away from screens. The concept of ‘screen time’ has been debated and researched, with valid concerns around the impact on children’s posture, muscular development and body weight, as well as eyesight and attention span.

How can parents redirect the focus from quantity of screen time to the quality of what their children consume?

Professor Lisa Kervin,is the Research Director at UOW’s Early Start, with a research focus on young childrens’ use of digital technologies, particularly tablets. She says the use of digital tablets themselves is not the issue.

“Rather, the concern is what they are doing with them – the purpose of the experience, the quality of the apps, and the social contexts within which the apps are used”, says Professor Kervin.

“One thing parents, carers and educators are often unsure about is how to choose quality apps for their young children and learners, and how to facilitate the use of these apps in homes.”

Professor Kervin, alongside Associate Professor Irina Verenikina and Clara Rivera, has developed a number of criteria for the selection of apps for play purposes, grounded in current research literature and leading theories of child development and play.

“Our criteria state that young children’s digital play should include spontaneous, self-initiated and self-motivated activities that engage children’s imagination,” she says.

Professor Kervin also emphasises that engaging in digital play together with peers, older siblings or parents is important.

“Whether it’s sharing a device or playing alongside each other, playing together stimulates children to talk out loud as they collaborate and solve problems in imaginative ways. We’re also seeing during this period of lockdown the power of technology to connect children to significant others and places that they otherwise are unable to access”.

The team have developed a guide to empower parents and carers to look at any app and judge if it’s a good fit for their child and family.