The Evil of Screen Time

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If there was a pub quiz round on Cbeebies currently I would have a good chance of winning. Find an episode of Topsy and Tim that I haven’t seen and I will be speechless!!  Shockingly my knowledge of current affairs or anything of a more intellectual view would, at this point in time come second to Cbeebies.  That’s because we watch quite a lot of it. I also know quite a few sections of certain Disney films off by heart too.

Whilst I am far from being the only parent in this situation I still find myself on occasions wanted to justify to the world my children’s screen time.

For some reason there seems to be this underlying belief that screen time means poor quality parenting about which we should feel terribly guilty. Pretty much every parent I know has a hang up about this borne out by the number of times I’ve heard mums (dads do this a lot less) say “I know it’s bad, but I let them play on the iPad/watch……”

Is all this guilt we experience around screens really warranted and if so why are we not acting on it? Whilst I admire families who don’t have a TV and rarely use screens I haven’t felt the need to go down that route.  However, feeling guilty without it leading to action or change is pretty much a waste of time, energy and emotion.  If you can relate to this then rather than feeling inadequate/guilty/anything that drains you I’d encourage you consider some of the following:

  1. Work out what your real issue with screens are.

The best way to do this is to identify what life in your house with screens would like in an ideal world.  Imagine you had a magic wand and everyone would go with what you thought best – what does a healthy and balanced approach to using screens look like for you – consider not just time span or device, but also content.

When we fostered we ended up in the sticky situation of debating with one of our children about taking a games console on holiday.  To me the thought of taking a full blown console on holiday was unthinkable.  To my foster child going on holiday without it was fairly torturous.  My issue – holidays are sociable times and games consoles often kill that.  In the end we came to a compromise – we’d take the Wii, but not the Playstation.  My husband and I then agreed that we would go and buy/borrow a couple of new games  & enough controllers for one each– the net result – a lot of sociable fun and a fantastic holiday with our young person.  Because we had identified the real issue with the screen we were able to find a way forward that work for all of us.

  1. Keep it in context

Look at the big picture of all that you do not just the time they spend on a screen

My preschool kids watch TV pretty much every lunchtime – to be totally honest this is because by that point in the day I need a bit of time where they sit still and don’t talk to me.  I love their company and conversation, but sometimes I need a few moments break – the TV gives me that and I don’t really feel guilty unless someone else sees me doing it and then I need to point out:

  1. We’ve usually been out all morning – they will have been doing a whole heap of activities ranging from running around, to socialising to reading to using their imaginations – the lunchtime screen doesn’t stop them doing that.
  2. It is the only meal time where they’re allowed to watch a screen and they know that boundary. We sit and eat together pretty much every tea time and talk – the TV isn’t stopping that.
  3. I am really careful about the content – Cbeebies is pretty awesome – there is load of educational stuff and NO ADVERTS .
  4. I am a much nicer mummy to be around in the afternoon if I’ve had a few moments of peace. The thing is that’s not their only screen time – they also spend half an hour watching nursery rhymes on you tube while I’m cooking tea (far preferable to tearing round the kitchen and getting injured or us all descending into meltdown). We also watch films together quite often.  My personal view is that like many things it’s not the screen that’s the problem it’s how we use it.

 

  1. Set boundaries based on what your child and family needs not what other people do.

 

Everyone else…” does not live in your house or fall under your responsibility.  You know your child best, your values and lifestyle and you are best placed to manage what they (and you) need. 

 

So often parents feel guilty when they’re little for any screen time and then giving them free reign when they’re older because “what can you do..?” From when they are small to when they are older we need to consider their screen use carefully – lose the guilt and gain some assertiveness.  Screens used well mean great social contact and access to a whole world of learning.  On the flip side if they’re going to school exhausted because they’ve been online at 2am or experiencing overwhelming peer pressure with no escape that needs to be managed (there’s probably a whole other blog around this topic).  Sometimes as parents we have to make tough decisions to protect our children.

 

Given that it is going to be hard to function in the adult world without being able to use a screen (don’t even get me started on the headache of my in-laws and internet use) our children need to be confident and competent screen users. However they also need to be wise and to have healthy boundaries. If we, as parents,  rather than feeling guilty or powerless, learn to confidently set and manage and model boundaries early on then our relationship with our children and screens might be an altogether  happier one.

 

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