How much is too much ‘screen time’?

by Laura Kiln PgDip (CBT) (Child & Adolescence), BSc (Hons) CMHN

That’s a question I get asked a lot! It’s amazing to think that the Internet is only 20 years old and it has transformed our lives, however it’s difficult to know the exact effect of information overload has on people.

We do know that today’s children under ten are going to use digital technologies more than any generation before.

There are more than 40,000 children’s games on iTunes so it’s becoming almost impossible for parents to avoid contact with this digital technology. I read an article the other day that was an eye opener; US children have been spending more than 7 hours a day using media and two thirds of children aged four to seven had already used an iPhone! Most of these children were handed the iPhone by their parents.

So are parents to blame?

Before we shout at the kids to get off the computer, TV, iPhone or other internet use we should really look at ourselves.

A recent newspaper had a headline the other day which claimed that giving up technology is as “stressful as getting married – and the hardest day to go without it is a Thursday”. A study has shown that half of us feel anxious if we can’t use our phones and over 45% said they checked their phone hourly.

If you think this is ringing a bell with you, here are a few statements to see how you score!

  • Do you check your phone first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed?
  • Are you checking Facebook first thing in the morning to see what’s happened over night?
  • Do you leave the house to run a quick errand and realize you have left your smart phone on the kitchen table and worry that you are ‘out of touch’?
  • Do you have to check each message immediately when it comes in, even if you are busy doing something else with the children?
  • Are you always checking your emails, working extra hours whilst you just type a quick reply?

Experts are concerned

  • Child Development specialists are worried that children are going to lose their ability to use their imagination to make up games and amuse themselves for hours at a time. If you think back to your own childhood, how much fun was had making ‘dens or houses’ out of boxes or under the dining room table with a sheet thrown over it?
  • There is also the concern that children are so often given an iPad or iPhone to keep them quiet, whilst Mum has a coffee with her friends, that they will actually lose the skill of meeting and playing with new friends.
  • There are worries that children will get used to the immediate gratification of iPad/iPhone games and this will affect how they learn to practice patience and concentration.
  • That they will never use libraries to borrow books to help with school work as all answers are at their fingertips using google?

‘To google’ something is now actually in the dictionary, the list goes on.

But is it all bad? Children today are growing up prepared for the world that they will enter when they leave school. They are able to keep in touch with their parents when they are out and we parents have a way of tracking our off spring down…to some extent anyway!

So maybe, like most things, it’s everything in moderation and perhaps watching what we model to our children is the best way to embrace the digital age.

As overwhelming as the onslaught of technology may feel, it’s simply not acceptable to throw ones hands in the air and complain about the kids & technology, remember who the parent is!

Here are some really simple rules that some of the families that I work with have to reclaim some family time without the stress of trying to ‘monitor’ the children all the time:

  • No mobiles at the dinner table, or between 5–7pm
  • All homework and chores must be finished before you are allowed computer game time or facebook etc.
  • No technology in bedrooms at night
  • Time restriction around technology use
  • No time on technology until kids are up, dressed and ready for school. So many morning arguments are around computer/TV use.
  • Remember you need to model these as well, setting limits for yourself maybe hard but you need to set aside time to be completely ‘present’ with your family.

The bottom line is there is no right answer to the question of ‘how much TV/iPad/mobile’ use. You will have to weigh up your family values, your child’s ability to balance all aspects of his or her life, and your own gut feeling.

Parental ‘gut’ feeling is rarely wrong! Good luck and remember don’t text the kids to ‘go to bed!’

Tel: (02) 4385 5587

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