SCREEN TIME – How much is too much?

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The paddling pool rippled enticingly under the sunlight, a tiny machine whirred a myriad of bubbles, buckets and spades and a variety of brightly coloured plastic were strewn across the lawn. Feeling like Mother of the year, I enthusiastically called for my daughter to come and play. “I don’t want to go outside Mummy! I want to watch Peppa Pig!”

My superhero Mum bubble burst. So many things to play with, beautiful weather to do it in, and all she wanted to do was to stay inside to watch that sodding pig. Unfortunately, this became a battle I regularly had to fight.

Granted, this isn’t the case when she has friends around. We do fill most days with play dates, but it’s not a realistic possibility for her to have company from the moment she wakes until the moment she goes to sleep. So, what do you do?

The summer holidays are long. Does a little screen time hurt that much? Everyone is doing it. You only have to look around the average café to see dozens of little bodies glued to their parents’ phones or with tablets of their own. Can it be that detrimental?

I followed standard advice with my firstborn and tried to keep screens off limits for as long as possible. Then she had her first housebound sickness as a toddler and I succumbed to cartoons. It was the standard advice mums gave me for keeping her entertained and my sanity intact. “All kids love Peppa Pig!” What they didn’t mention is that every parent hates Peppa Pig too!

As for my second child, the theme tune to his early life was the soundtrack from Frozen and one of his first “words” was a snort. Standards haven’t just slipped, they’ve nose-dived. The digital baby sitter is just far too appealing, particularly when you’re outnumbered over the summer holidays. Or when you just want a moment to finish your dinner after having spent most the meal time on damage control.

We justify it to ourselves because it’s what everyone else does, because technology is bound to play a significant role in their lives long-term, because some shows are educational – and often – because we just need a moment to ourselves to do luxurious things like, you know, pee without an audience!

However, should we be taking it more seriously? Is the amount of time we allow our kids to be in front of screens going to impair them long-term? Are there methods we can adapt to find a better balance?

As a mum to small children, this is an issue which already concerns me, but it’s an issue which affects all parents. For now, I have control over what they view, but as time goes on, I know I will have to review parental controls and the kind of content they are accessing. If and when they will own their own tablet, and the appropriate age to own a phone – which no doubt will be influenced by peers at school.

Excessive screen time has been proven to have a negative impact on physical health (obesity), emotional development, social interaction, attention problems and sleep quality. The brain develops so quickly between birth and three years old, this is a critical time to lay the correct foundations. It is proven that screen time habits are addictive, it really is something that needs to be managed as a family.

While we may be constantly battling against our kids addiction to their screens, the internet can also be our friend; there are apps out there which can make our lives easier as parents. Local Mum Celine Delasalle created the Kidibank app which includes a screen time manager.

When I asked her about the motivation behind including a screen time manager as part of a children’s money-saving app Celine shared “As a working mom I realised that my attention and tracking of how much actual time my daughter spent in front of screens was inaccurate, if not lousy. I was aware that too much screen time wasn’t great for her development, mood and sleep but as I had to, very often, juggle work when she was around, “five minutes” lead to hours because I was busy and we had no consistent way of tracking time over one screen session. We wanted her to be able to realise that she also needed to develop healthy viewing habits in the same way that too much sugar (or of anything) wasn’t ideal and moderation allows to enjoy everything more. Now we agree on her daily screen allowance and she can save unviewed time in her “time bank” (which surprisingly for us, she tends to do regularly) so she can plan for more time to complete a game level or watch a movie another time. We no longer really argue about it – as the app/tracker has the data (and isn’t “unfair”) and I feel less guilty as well as more in control of how much time she spends on screens.”

What else are we meant to do as parents? In her article “Screens and Child Brain Development” Angela Pruess, Child Therapist writes “Parents have the power to help their child establish healthy habits with technology, through reasonable limit setting, cultivating ongoing awareness of content available and ongoing discussion.”

As well as monitoring, an open flow of discussion is vital. With all the safe guards in the world, children are still bound to fall on content which shocks them. Whether that be from a friend at school sharing something on their phone, via trendy apps, online crazes, or an innocent google search. Nothing is foolproof so it’s vital that your child is comfortable to discuss these things with you or a trusted adult and equally parents need to be aware of online trends.

Limit. Monitor. Engage. Limiting screen time is something that the family needs to do as a whole. After all, children are more likely to listen if they are following by example. If you wish for your children to be engaged, it’s imperative that you are engaged yourselves.

I ran over to the lawn without her, as she protested from the side. I asked that she helped me “water the plants”. As soon as she saw it as playing with a purpose and a great opportunity to boss her little brother around, she quickly got involved – a morning now logged in our summer memories. No photos, no tagging, no check-ins, just us.

Engage. Be present. Enjoy. Make some summer memories that just belong to you!