The issue of screen time is something modern parents frequently discuss. There are many warnings about screen time and its negative effects as screen-based technology increasing enter out day to day, moment to moment existence.
When I was offered a review copy of Be The Parent Please by Naomi Schaefer Riley, I was interested to see what a journalist’s perspective on the topic would be. It’s something I’ve written about previously for other publications. Curiously, I found that while generally blamed for a variety of children’s developmental difficulties in the last 20 years, there was little firm research about the impact of screen devices on children’s development. Mostly what we read about screens and children’s development has come from the research on television viewing and anecdotal report from teachers and health professionals. Also, I found that it is anticipated that mobile technology may be better for children than TV due to its interactive nature.
In Be the Parent Please, Schaefer Riley encourages parents to set firm limits on screen time and warns against the use of ipads in classrooms. Schaefer Riley states her concerns about the impact of screens on the development, and in particular, the educational attainment in children. I would agree that limits on screen use are important particularly when I read that some studies find some children use screens for up to 12 hours a day. If children spent 12 hours doing a range of other activities in isolation this would come with its own set of developmental dilemmas.
From my perspective as a parent and a professional, the most helpful approach comes from a more qualitative approach to screens rather than hard and fast rules. One of the frustrations I experienced with the screen time issue when I took an hours-based approach was that my children were having the recommended 2 hours of screen time at school. This meant unless we went screen free at home there was no way to meet the recommended guidelines at the time. This may be the choice some parents choose to make, but it didn’t seem a feasible one to me. These guidelines have more recently been adjusted.
There is no way the technology is exiting our lives anytime soon so parents will continue to keep a balance between screen and non-screen time. If you would like to adopt a more flexible approach some questions to consider about your child’s screen use are:
- Is your child continuing to show interest in other activities away from screens?
- How is your child using their screen? Is the content your child engages with creative or is it just pseudo-advertising?
- Is the content appropriate for their age?
- Is the content varied or do they obsessively engage with one format only?
- Do they routinely use their screens to avoid discomfort in social situations?
- Are they respectful to others online?
- Do they respect themselves online?
- Are they maintaining friendships and family relationships?
- Are they completing their homework and chores?
- Is their online experience positive or does it upset your child on a regular basis?
A flexible approach allows you to monitor and adjust your child’s screen use as needed and in response to the behaviors you observe in them.
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