David Graham, founder and CEO of Code Ninjas discusses how parents can make screen time more productive for their offspring

Children’s screen time is always a hot topic for parents these days. How much is too much, what’s the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ screen time, and how do you find the right balance? At this time of year, in fact during any school holiday, it’s something that becomes even more of a stressor.

In a recent study by Internet Matters, 9 out of 10 parents said they try to limit their child’s use of devices. 32% of parents with children aged 6-10 said they were concerned about the impact of screen time on playtime, and 30% said screen time means they have to fight for their child’s attention. Interestingly though, despite these worries, parents do acknowledge and understand that there are benefits. 70% think screen time is essential for their child’s learning development and 67% believe that using devices gives their child another way of being creative.

So, what’s the solution? I personally think that instead of categorising screen time as ‘bad’, parents should instead say to themselves, ‘how can we put that screen time to better use?’ As a former coder and entrepreneur, I feel confident that it’s all about turning screen time into something productive. I believe – and have seen first-hand – that through programmes like Code Ninjas, screen time comes with a host of benefits.

Everything about Code Ninjas is built around fun. Kids between the age of 7 and 14 learn how to code by building video games, robotics and drones – they love it! It’s fun, it’s loud – it’s exciting. Our centres are called Dojos, teachers are called Senseis and our Ninjas progress through a game-based curriculum made up of nine belts, just like martial arts. As well as coding, children gain the complimentary skills – such as logic, problem-solving and teamwork – that they’ll need for the jobs of the future.

Instead of simply playing a computer game, scrolling on social media or scouring YouTube for funny videos, encouraging children to use their screen or device time to learn how to code is something that parents can feel good about. Rather than at-home, secluded screen time, encourage your children (although from my experience, it’s often them encouraging you!) to become involved in a regular group or centre-based coding club. There are a multitude of benefits to this type of learning, many of which directly address the top worries cited by parents in the same study mentioned above.

Worry: lack of interest in more traditional subjects

Learning to code in a group environment is complementary to other STEM and non-STEM subjects. The supplementary skills learnt – including teamwork, communication and problem solving – benefit students both in their academic and personal development. A great coding centre, such as Code Ninjas, will foster an environment of collaboration and encourage kids to share ideas and solutions, just like real coders! All of which helps kids to build confidence and independence in their own learning, whilst having fun.

Worry: lack of exercise/obesity

Remember that screen time doesn’t always mean sitting in front of a computer! Building drones and robots gets kids up and out of their seats so, when choosing a provider, look for evidence that sessions are active and engaging. Silence isn’t golden – if you can’t hear the kids having fun, chances are, they aren’t.

Worry: isolation/addiction

Learning to code in a destination setting, particularly a group environment, is a great way for kids to make friends. A good provider will be passionate about their community so, check how sessions are structured and avoid ‘classroom’ style setups. Ask how progression is acknowledged and celebrated – it should be something that everyone takes part in. A great example from Code Ninjas is that our coding centres, or Dojos, are parent-free zones! Kids are encouraged to make friends and work together. And when someone progresses, colour wristbands are awarded in ‘belt-up’ ceremonies that the whole Dojo takes part in. Inclusion and collaboration are big drivers in the coding community.

Worry: fighting for your child’s attention

When kids learn something new – and fun – they are inspired to share it with their parents and friends. Look for a centre or a provider that has a system in place to help your child share their achievements and creations with you when they get home. Can they show you what they have built? What game they have designed? Can you play it with them? By showing interest and celebrating your child’s achievements with them, you can create a real sense of positivity around this kind of screen time over others. Not to mention you are also strengthening your relationship with them.

Worry: staying safe online

Coding programmes rarely require internet browsing. Screen time and online time have come to mean the same thing, when they are in fact, different. In the case of Code Ninjas, learning to code by building games that they already know and love, is a great way to capture their imagination and attention – without a social media account in sight! They are also not connected to anything that would allow someone outside of the Dojo to communicate or interact with them, so they are not in danger of strangers online.

In today’s digital world, you can’t escape screen time. What we can do, as parents, is take a more realistic approach and instead of letting our children passively consume media, we can leverage screen time for future benefit. Whilst our kids are learning and having fun!

For more information about Code Ninjas, to find out when a centre might be opening near you – or if you’re interested in opening one of your own – visit www.codeninjasfranchise.co.uk