Screen Time – We live in digital times where the use of mobile phones is prevalent. But how much screen time is too much as far as our kids are concerned?
We have all done it. We have all, at one time or another, handed our child a mobile phone or tablet to distract them with some screen time so that we can get on with doing something. I am unaware of any parents who have not. It’s easily done when you need to take a business call, feed the dog, load the dishwasher or simply take a break. It’s always really easily done when it feels like World War 3 is breaking out in your home, and it seems like the only way to get some peace. Parenting is hard, and sometimes we just need a break.
How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?
Despite this, we are all aware, as parents, that too much screen time can be detrimental to our toddlers and young children. But how much screen time is too much, and why is it an issue? Let’s look at the negative impact of ‘too much’ screen time:
- Inactivity – which can lead to obesity, lack of imagination and creative play as well as a decreased attention span
- Performance issues – lower scores in memory, language and thinking tests
- Inappropriate content – if left alone with devices for too long, children can stumble across content that creates confusion and emotional problems
- Digital addiction – which can lead to cognitive damage (structural changes in the brain)
- Poor sleep quality and duration
Given that the above list appears to present a scary picture of the impact of screen time, what should we, as parents, be allowing our children to do? A recent study was published in the UK by the RCPCH – The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2019). ‘High screen time’ is determined as 2 hours or more per day, and at that level, detrimental physical, social and mental effects were observed. The report also concluded that while there was no actual safe level of screen time, that not all screen time could be perceived as ‘harmful. The full report can be found here, and it is an enlightening read.
Screen Time Stats
The digital world can help children learn, explore and develop skills that they will require in later life, such as how to manipulate devices and technology. Currently, according to Internet Matters, statistics show that in the 0-5 years old category:
- 36% play games online for up to 6 hours per week
- 80% watch cartoons
- 69% use tablets
- 52% are online 9 hours per week
Set The Boundaries
There are no concrete, screen time guidelines (apart from the fact that 2+ hours per day is damaging). It is, therefore, up to us as parents to set clear boundaries for our children. Ideas include:
- Device-free times – to include meal times and bedtime
- Watching high, quality content together
- Setting an excellent example with your own mobile/tablet use
- Splitting online time between passive watching and interactive learning
For my part, I allow my kids to watch cartoons on my tablet. They are 3 and 5 years old. However, I choose the content, and the time is limited to weekends. We also have rules about phones at the table and in the bedroom. Definitely not allowed.
The Alternatives To Screen Time
Providing your child with lots of other stimulating, non-digital, activities pays dividends. Creative play, reading, crafts, sports and music are all ideas of exciting activities that your children can participate in to occupy themselves. As they become older, they will demand more screen time and mobile phones of their own. Next comes social media, the PlayStation or Xbox (or whatever new device will be invented in the future). Creating good habits now, while they are young, will set them in good stead for when they become teenagers.
When All Is Said And Done
I am as guilty as the next parent for using the phone as an unpaid babysitter, but given the information contained in this article and the findings of the RCPCH report, I will, in future, be much more mindful of doing this. When all is becoming a little crazy in your house, and you feel like whipping out your phone for some peace and quiet, maybe grab some play-d’oh or some slime instead. Infinitely messier, but definitely healthier.