We all know technology can be a godsend. Who hasn’t stuck the kids in front of CBeebies so they can sort the sock drawer or hoover the house? These days we’re also likely to let them play on a tablet or smartphone, but it’s all too easy to let the iNanny take the load. Pretty soon ten minutes is an hour… or three, and that’s fine, because when was the last time you had a moment to yourself to watch the entire box set of Downton Abbey?
We live in a tech-savvy age and like it or not, our children are going to be increasingly exposed to technology throughout their lives. Indeed, used appropriately the television and Internet are great educational tools while video games and reactive screens can improve hand-eye co-ordination. However, non-educational, leisure screen time is a growing issue and you are on a dangerous path if you do not establish ground rules about the amount of time your children in front of screens.
According to a recent report by OfCom, four in ten three and four year olds have access to a tablet and more than a third of children between five and 15 years old have one of their own. The amount of time children spend glued to a screen has also risen dramatically over the last two decades. A report by Childwise published last year, found that children aged five to 16 spend an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen. Over use of technology can result in dependency where a child loses interest in other activities ane exhibits signs of anxiety and or anger when the technology is removed. Dr Richard Graham who has established the UK’s first Technology Addiction Service for young people says, “I’ve heard of children who have begun to school able to find video content on a computer but who cannot use a pair of scissors or tie their shoes. One can really see the need for balance.”
So if we want our children to be part of the modern world, yet fear addiction exactly how much screen time should we allow them? Advice varies from country to country, but experts in the UK agree that the table below is a good guide:
|Age of Child||Daily Screen Time|
|3 – 5 years||Up to 1 hour (limit to 15 minutes at a time)|
|6 – 18 years||Up to 2 hours (you may discount homework screen time in older children)|
Here are some more ideas for setting boundaries with technology:
No screens in rooms – bedrooms are not entertainment centres, they are for rest and sleep. Keeping technology out of the bedroom allows you to better monitor usage.
Establish a ‘Golden Hour’ – Designate a chunk of time where children can choose to enjoy screentime (either play on a device, use the computer or watch TV). Set an alarm or egg-timer and remove or turn off when the time is up.
Lead by example – Watch your own habits around technology. Don’t reach for your phone all the time, or talk to your child with one eye on a screen. Don’t have your phone on the table during mealtimes. If you do, you are telling your kids that constant screen time is acceptable. Got a TV on in the background? Turn it off. Passive viewing ruins children’s concentration. Deep concentration leads to better, more creative thinkers.
Offer alternative activities – Give kids opportunities to interact socially with their peers face-to-face. Encourage them to get out and do physical activity. Let them find a hobby.
Give the gift of boredom – Children should be offered non-screen activities, but equally they need to learn how to deal with boredom and amuse themselves. This leads to greater self-sufficiency in later life. Take the technology away and let them find something else to do. Once they’re tired of whining, they’ll start to think outside the virtual world and may surprise themselves and you.