Screen time and your children

As we live through this bizarre pandemic, parents are turning on T. V’s and powering up tablets more and more. You’ll no doubt be familiar with the scene. It comes to bath time and the toddler needs to put down the ipad and suddenly the rage of a small child erupts. Screaming and crying. Then you finally get them down to bed and suddenly your pre-teen comes down and asks to play another hour of first-person shooter despite it being late on a school night. But does watching that extra episode before bed really make a difference? Can all these screens be harmful to your child?

First of all, let’s be clear. These devices are not the enemy. They are a wonderful resource that when utilised with care can connect us, help us learn and give us hours of entertainment. Something that we’ve all found so crucial this year.

However, these screens have been intentionally designed to captivate and entice us. To prevent us from putting them down. Which might not be a big deal for those days when you’ve got a bit of time to kill between meetings or when you’re watching kitten videos in the bath. But for kids, they don’t have the self-control that adults possess. So, what are some of the concerns about our kids and screen time?

The downside of excessive screen time has been well documented:

  • Spending two hours or more of screen time per day is linked to clinically significant behavioural problems in primary aged children.
  • In teens there is an increased risk of depressive symptoms in those kids who spend more time on their smartphones than is advisable.
  • Dangers of unsupervised usage such as explicit content, online bullying and poor self-esteem.
  • Obesity due to reduction of physical activity during sedentary usage of devices.
  • Reduction of sleep and quality of sleep.
Teen looking at a laptop screen

Okay, what counts?

Years ago, when we debated even letting kids on devices like mobile phones or computers it was literally termed any time your kids face as staring into an electronic screen counted. But realistically, in the period we live now that’s an unrealistic expectation. Especially as we home school and keep up with relatives and friends electronically. These are important to us all, especially at the moment with your child being no exception.

So a handy tip to ask yourself is, does this activity have purpose? Spending time scrolling videos on TikTok or aimlessly clicking through facebook or twitter would not constitute as having a purpose. But Googling maths homework or facetiming your cousin does have an important role to play.

Where do I find my screen time on my children’s devices?

First of all, you’ll need to gather up all the various devices that they have in the house. Then, you can go through one by one. It depends whether your child is using an Android or Apple device for example. Normally, devices will have a feature in settings that will be called something like “Welfare settings” or it might be under parental controls. If you’re unsure, probably the easiest way to find a breakdown of how long your kid is spending on various apps in a day would ironically be to Google something like: “how to find screen time on a …”.

Once you’ve taken a look at how long they are spending on various apps then you’ll need to decide yourself. Is this acceptable? Could this be too much? Unfortunately, there isn’t really a hard and fast rule of what’s “good” and what’s “bad” but there are some guidelines for younger children as shown in this infographic:

How do I cut down on screen time?

If you feel that your child is spending too much time on their devices these are some great ways to monitor and limit their usage:

  • Screen time limits for children, use a timer. Any timer! Just whatever works for you. You could designate half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening that they can use their phone to scroll. Or you can even use the in-device settings to set a limit which once reached prevents them from accessing the app so they ration it throughout the day. Or even download a screen time app to help.
  • Lead by example, if you feel your child’s screen time is higher than it perhaps should be then there’s a good chance yours is too. Why not start a device free evening once or twice a week where everyone put’s their mobiles in a basket in the kitchen and everyone can read or play a board game, maybe cook or go for a walk?
  • Make sure that the time they are spending on their devices is used wisely. Maybe they are genuinely trying to look up something useful but because everyone is at home the broadband speed is slow and it’s taking them longer to access what they are looking for? If they use this as an excuse you can easily check the download and upload speed using Speedcheck.
  • Talk to your child, do they feel lonely or anxious and that’s why they are spending a long time throughout the day online. Maybe there is something to discuss that you’ve not noticed before?
Ipad Screen

If you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle (we’ve all been there) don’t be too hard on yourself! It’s all about communication. There isn’t a one size for all solution. Just make sure that the correct parental controls are installed and that you’ve had a chat about the realities of social media, websites and internet safety.

And if all else fails you could always turn off the Wifi!