As a parent of two children ages 9 & 7, the recent lockdown has inevitably ended with more screen time for myself and the kids. As we cocoon together and work from home, screen time is creeping up and the children can now clearly see the relationship their parents have with technology.
So, what to digitally do?
Since my first child was born, I have made a conscious effort to try not to have any screens around me – laptop, tablet or phone, whilst the kids are with me. I admit this is now harder as we are all at home together, but I try to stay cognizant of my relationship with my devices and leave my phone in another room during family time.
We have set times for the iPad, 1-hour post-lunch, and the kids can choose from a curated list of age-appropriate games and content. I have suffered a few fails, my son has gravitated to watching other kids gaming on YouTube Kids and my daughter, who once discussed her daily class activities and nature with me, now chats about her cats and wolves that she has spawned in Minecraft! (Thank god I had the sense to set it to creative mode, I can’t imagine what our conversations would be like if it was survival mode!) So just make sure you keep a keen eye on what they are doing on devices.
TV time is also set, 1-hour post-bath time, but this has crept up during lockdown. We use on-demand subscription services, Netflix and Apple TV. The kids love their cartoons, How to Train a Dragon, Scooby-Doo etc and nature programs. We also watch programs for all the family, Lego Master, The Masked Singer, Songland, Modern Family, (I know, not totally appropriate, but most of the adult laughs fly over their heads). On the weekend the kids watch a movie in the morning, this is something they really enjoy.
With older children, the big challenge is smartphones. Try to set boundaries, no phones at the dinner table or in the bedroom after a certain time at night. Talk to your teenagers about phone use, try to encourage good practice and try to lead by example. If you are stuck to a screen, then your children will lobby for the right to their device.
The current recommendations for screen time are, for children younger than 18 months, avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
For children aged 2 to 5 years, screen use should be limited to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
For children aged 6 years and older, consistent limits should be placed on the time spent using media, and on the types of media, and to make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
As a parent, you want to do right by your kids, and the old mantra of everything in moderation rings true. Kids learn by playing, moving, talking and watching other humans, try to create a routine that touches on each of these elements throughout the day and removes the temptation to watch a screen!