When does screentime become unhealthy – what are the guidelines and how can you ‘Talk & Teach’ your kids to find that balance between enjoying their iPad and playing outside? 

Many parents believe that technology and gadgets are essential for their child’s development, but it can quickly and easily get out of hand can’t it?

How do you manage the moaning, whining & addiction in your house?

The amount of time a child spends in front of a screen is a question being asked not just by worried parents but psychologists, health organisations, schools and even governments.

A recent TLF Panel survey conducted on behalf of kids clothing retailer Vertbaudet.co.uk found that 4 in 5 parents believe technology and gadgets are good for their kids, aiding in their development.

The study found that 37% of parents asked said that their child spent between one and two hours a day playing with tech gadgets, and 28 % said between two- and three hours.

Another poll published earlier this year revealed that 47% of pupils were worried about not getting enough sleep because of an addiction to technology, and that 11% spent between 10 and 15 hours a day online at weekends and during the holidays.

The reason behind all this gadget use: over a third of parents (35 percent) said they use tech gadgets to entertain their children because they are convenient, and nearly a quarter (23 percent) because they want their children to be tech-savvy. A survey of 1,000 British mothers of children aged 2 to 12 found that 85% of mums admit to using technology to keep the kids occupied while they get on with other activities !

In his lecture ‘Managing Screen Time and Screen Dependency’ Dr Aric Sigman argues that “whether it’s Facebook, the internet or computer games, screen time is no longer merely a cultural issue about how children spend their leisure time, nor is it confined to concern over the educational value or inappropriate content – it’s a medical issue.

Experts are becoming worried about children’s mental health, addiction and ability to concentrate for long periods of time free from a screen.

By the age of seven the average child will have spent a full year of 24-hour days watching recreational screen media & over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they spend in school.

Screen time effect on academic grades

In 2015 Cambridge University researchers recorded the activities of more than 800 14-year-olds and analysed their GCSE results at 16. Those spending an extra hour a day on screens (TV, computer, games console, phone) saw a fall in GCSE results equivalent to two grades overall.

On average, the 14-year-olds said they spent four hours of their leisure time each day watching TV or in front of a computer.

A poll published earlier this year revealed that 47% of pupils were worried about not getting enough sleep because of an addiction to technology, and that 11% spent between 10 and 15 hours a day online at weekends and during the holidays.

What’s most important is that you, as your child’s parent, be their  ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn & how to find a healthy balance around it’s use, through your guidelines.

Guidelines to reduce a child’s screen time for health, psychological and educational benefits.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends parents prioritise creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers. Some media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it’s critically important that this be high-quality programming & parents of young children should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing.

Problems begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world, which is critical to learning. Too much screen time can also harm the amount and quality of sleep that your child is receiving. Organisations like Common Sense Media can help you to evaluate media content and make decisions about what is appropriate for their family.

Among the AAP recommendations:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programmes. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

This week go round your house and count all the screens your kids have access to – then ponder are they able to access Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, smartphone, family computer and a laptop and/or a tablet computer?

Pause to Ponder:

Do I have rules around the length of time my kids are on screens?

When do I let them have their ‘Screen Time?’

Do I know what are they accessing?

What sort of role model am I around my own screen time?

Then sit down and write down your rules, chat to your partner so you are all singing from the same song sheet, and have a family ‘talk time’ when you tell your kids your ‘Screen Time’ Rules. They may moan, they may whine – but you are their parent not their friend and you owe it to them to protect them from lack of sleep, addiction and mental health problems growing up don’t you? Keep the bigger picture, relax and find that balance between screen time and play and activity time in the real world. Check out my ‘Bored Jar’ solution here

For great advice go to the Common Sense Media website as they provide  independent reviews, age ratings, & other information about all types of media.

The idea of screen time as a one-dimensional activity is changing — even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), whose screen time rules had been strictly age-based, is recognising that not all screen time is created equal. Computers, tablets, and smartphones are multipurpose devices that can be used for lots of purposes. Designating their use simply as “screen time” can miss some important variations. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time……