How much screen time is too much, is something that has been on my mind a lot lately in regards to my daughter and also for myself too! We are now coming up to a year of homeschooling. Over that year Faith has had many more opportunities to spend time on her phone or watch TV than before and it really started to worry me. Then in the lead up to Christmas, an advert came on TV which said ‘if you left kids to their own devices, they might never leave their devices’. This really struck a chord with me. Up to this point, I have never limited screen time, apart from the ‘no phones at dinner rule’. A rule which we have had in place ever since we got our own first mobile phones in the late 1990s!
I guess because I have always been a very hands-on mum, I was never really worried too much. The kids didn’t have a huge amount of free time to spend on their screens anyway. However, with Faith being homeschooled and me working on my blog she has more free time than the other two did and technology has also advanced a lot more too. I decided that I needed to look into what the recommendations are and see what changes I needed to implicate. I started researching and I thought that I would share what I found.
Here are some statistics which I found. I think they are useful to give you a guide to what people are currently doing with their kids.
0-5 years – 52% are online for 9 hours a week and 69% use a tablet to go online.
5-7 years – 42% own their own tablet and 82% spend 9 hours a week online.
7-11 years – 35% own a smartphone and 93% spend 13.5 hours a week online.
11-14 years – 83% own a smartphone and 99% are online for 20.5 hours a week.
14+ – 99% own a smartphone, 93% have at least one social media profile and 99% spend 20.5 hours a week online.
Things have certainly changed over the years
As a parent, I think it can be difficult for us as things have moved on so much in terms of technology. I was 18 when I got my first mobile phone and all you could do on it was send texts, phone people and play a game called snake. Now we have six-year-olds owning their own tablets with online access, it is worlds apart from when I was six! However, we need to get our heads around the advances in technology for our children’s sake.
My biggest concern is the physical effects of too much screen time. Too much screen time can disrupt healthy sleep patterns. The light from screens can confuse the brain and insomnia can develop. The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) discusses how there is a lack of evidence on screen time and children. This makes it difficult to predict likely outcomes of children using screens. However, they did review as much information as they could although most of the research which they used related to television screens.
They concluded that if children spend more than two hours a day using screens then they are more likely to develop depressive symptoms. However, they also suggest that some screen time is better for mental health than none at all. The full guide can be read here but there is not really enough evidence to fully support any arguments in these matters.
So what should we as parents do?
A family meeting/contract
It has been suggested that you discuss it as a family and then draw up a contract which everyone signs. Now, this may work for families with younger more passive children but this kind of thing does not work with Faith. She can debate so well that by the end of the meeting I would end up thinking that I should be letting her have more screen time rather than less! She does make some good points when we discuss these types of things. I have also had to remember that I am an adult so I should have the final say. Especially if it is something that relates to her overall health and wellbeing.
I do not know about other people with older children but mine have always acted like they have a right to have a mobile. They think that they are entitled to do as they please on their own devices. This makes it really hard to try and agree on any limits but it is also very difficult to try and get across the message that they are not entitled to such things. So as a parent, you may need to come up with what you feel is acceptable and then tell your children this is how it is going to be.
Something which could help with this is a great resource that I found on ‘Internet Matters‘, which has information on how you can set up parental controls and set automatic limits on all types of devices. There are internet provider guides, mobile phone guides, and even gaming console guides. I never knew that you could have so much control over what your children can access and the limits that you can set, so this is really good for helping parents with older children who will try and break the rules on a daily basis.
Making children aware of how long they spend on their devices
This is really good as we all know how easy it can be to lose time on social networking sites. The amount of time I think I will just check my Instagram account thinking I will spend ten minutes. Before I know it, an hour has whizzed by. Most devices have tools that tell you how long you have spent on them and what you have been doing. I have mine enabled on my mobile phone as I often worry that I spend too much time on my phone. It helps me keep things in perspective.
Getting your kids to enable their phones or tablets to do the same will help them become aware of how much time they are really spending on them. It may not be enough to make them want to reduce time, but it is a good way to get them thinking about these types of things. It is also something that you could chat about together each week, comparing your own with theirs and seeing what they have spent most of their online time doing.
Get out more as a family and do activities that are screen-free
This is something that I like to try and do as much as possible. We have regular board game nights where no one goes on their phones as we are too busy in the activity. We also try and get out for a walk with the dogs at the weekends or in the past we have done activities such as crabbing and visiting museums. These are all activities which often mean the only time you may use your devices is to take some photographs. This is also a more subtle way of diverting older children away from their screens without them really realising it!
Lead by example
This is something that I have always tried to do anyway. I find it very disingenuous to tell your kids not to do something and then five minutes later sit there doing that very thing which you said not to do. The difficulty with screen time is that my job is centred around screens. I use computers to write and manage my blog. Then as a blogger, I have to have active social media accounts. This means that I spent a lot of time on my mobile phone.
Now that Faith is nearly twelve she is starting to understand that I have to use my phone at certain times but I still feel uneasy about it. However, there are some things which I can do such as I recently started not using my phone in bed. Instead, I began reading in bed which I had not done for a long time. Modelling healthy habits to your children can go a long way in helping them understand that there needs to be a balance as with most things in life.
Every family is different.
What is right for one family may be totally wrong for another. The one thing that all of the research can agree on is that there needs to be a balance. We have put limits in place from Tuesday to Friday each week. I have said that between getting up and 6 pm there are no screens being used. Apart from any needed for our home education. I have made a list of alternate activities for Faith to choose from in her free time on these days rather than her usual watching TV and using her phone. The rule of no phones at dinner will carry on as usual.
I am modelling the healthy habit of no screens in bed but reading instead. We are making sure that we do things as a family each week that are fun but screen-free which also helps to reduce screen time. I have enabled the screen time tools on Faith’s phone so that she is more aware of how much she uses her phone and what she uses it for. We already regularly discuss the types of activities which she does online and internet safety.
We are a very relaxed family
Some people may feel that this is still too relaxed. For us, it is better than it was and it feels right for us. With Faith being homeschooled her phone is how she keeps in touch with her friends. Many of them live in other counties so if I stopped her from using her phone a lot she would lose touch with her social life which would do more harm than good. Faith is also very creative and she expresses her creative side through cosplay and making cosplay videos. Taking away her access to do this would be more detrimental than helpful.
Every child is different too
We also need to think about current screen time usage and if it is causing any negative effects. Even though Faith has been using screens more than I would have liked over the last year she is still engaging in her learning. She is a healthy weight, she participates in family screen-free activities and she still loves meeting up with her friends in person when she gets the chance. These factors all indicate to me that her screen time usage has not resulted in negative effects. As parents, we can sometimes get caught up in headlines and other people’s opinions. It is easy to let that govern how we raise our children. We need to remember that as long as we are doing our best for our children and our families, it does not matter what everyone else is doing. Just do what is right for you and yours.