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Kids screen time debate : Why “How Much?” is the wrong question

Are you stressed, worried and anxious about your child spending too much time on devices?

Everyday we are bombarded with headlines like:

Tech CEO’s do not give their own children devices 
Screen time is bad for brain development
No screen time allowed for babies

All this headlines cover us in guilt in allowing our children some screen time.

Our motherly instincts is yelling at us: Let your children go out and play!

But just one more peek at Instagram, your own fingers scrolling through the device.

Despite our own unlimited use of devices, we still worry about our child’s screen time use. How much is too much? This is the most common question asked by all parents.

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Here are some screen time facts according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) : 

  • No screen time below the age of 2 years old. But screen time is allowed for video chat with family members
  • For children aged 2-5 years old limit screen time to one hour a day and choose high quality programs
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

Many of us would have probably read or come across the facts above. But in reality we all struggle to follow the guidelines given to us. To hide the guilt we feel for allowing screen time, we find ways to keep children away from the devices.

 

This post is not about keeping your children offline, it is about redefining the guilt associated with screen time.

This is my own confession : 

As a work-from-home Mom, nothing much changes for me in terms of deadlines and work when my kid is at home. I have reached my limits, when my baby is grumpy and needs constant attention. But that is what she is supposed to do : grumpy because she is late for a feed ; or asking me for the hundred time to carry her since she woke up. She is a baby and she is doing everything right; but that does not make it easier for me to handle.

 

Just like you, I had imaged being the mom who would create her own home-made sensory activities and spending the day in the playground. Some days are like that.

But some days are just not. And on those days, I feel guilty allowing her watching nursery rhymes on the TV. Though I realise how badly I need that time to complete some chores, the worry and guilt does not leave me. I am sure that sounds familiar!

 

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But what if we don’t need to feel guilty?

What if we can confidently say ‘yes this is tech time’ for the kids? No one judging us or giving us the weird stare. No need to explain ourself to strangers in the restaurant or whenever we are out and our kids are holding an Ipad.

 

We are going to take the steps to achieve that now.

 

Firstly, we need to recognise that technology is not all bad for kids. Just like how not all offline activities are good. This is the biggest shift we need to have in our mindset. Once we have achieved this we can get rid of all that negativity attached with screen time and children.

I have seen many family media contracts with messages like this:

Homework
Housework
Read
Play outdoors
…And then you get screen time

Super tired Moms, this is for you:

Implementing this rule means that we are emphasising on ‘real life’ over ‘tech time’, or basically everything else is more important than tech time. But what message are we exactly sending our children?

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This is what most children hear at home : 

  • Screen time is bad
  • There is nothing educational on screen
  • Technology will make kids dumber

And yet your child sees you and other adults spending all day in front of a screen. We might be depriving our children from the amazing opportunities provided by technology.

The reality is technology is nothing like those bulleted points. It is part of our life and it is not going anywhere.  The good news is that it does not have to be an unsafe place as long as devices are used correctly and responsibly.

Now let me show you how to find the right tech balance

You would like your child to : 

  • Understand the advantages of the digital world
  • Be creative online and not just consuming content
  • Be responsible digital citizens

To achieve this you will need to : 

  • Guide your child in using the internet
  • Make internet part of your family life, instead of banning it
  • Use the internet together with your child.

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This is how you are going to teach your child the benefits of the internet:

Instead of telling your child that she cannot use the internet, you are going to create an internet list with her that will incorporate all the things she can do online.

The list will look something like this : 

  • Blog or write a story
  • Learn to code
  • Read an ebook
  • Watch  inspirational videos or shows
  • Learn a language
  • Spend time on Cbeebies website
  • Play Stack the Countries app

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If your kids are more interested in creative things then the list can look something like this : 

  • Make and edit a video
  • Make a comicstrip
  • Paint or sketch online using a sketchpad
  • Learn about their favourite artist
  • Learn a recipe and cook together as a family – Your child can browse and pick the recipe

By having a list like this you and your child can be clear as to the purpose of using technology. You know that your child is using it in a positive way, hence you no longer need to feel guilty about screen time.

Not every screen time need to be educational and creative:

What is your child wants to play video games? That is okay too. Think of how you use technology, it is not always for educational purposes. Instead many times we use it for entertainment reasons.

If your child wants to just relax and play games online, it is not the end of the world. As long as you are aware of the nature of the game and it is age appropriate then it is ok to let them play for a certain time limit.

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4 ways of making video games work in your family : 

  1. Select the games together
  2. Try out the game yourself before allowing your child to play it
  3. Ask your child to complete one of the lists above before allowing games
  4. Read this guide on selecting the right app for your child 

Remember that it is not about banning tech, but saying yes to the right kind of tech. Teach your child how to use devices in a way that will make them into more resourceful and educated individuals.

Prevent screen time from harming your kids:

Despite creating a list like above, many parents will have the constant fear that they are allowing too much screen time. There are certain rules you can put in place to make sure that screen time does not harm your children. This includes :

  1. No devices allowed in the bedroom
  2. No mobile phones at the dinner table
  3. Include alternative activities in your child’s schedule. For instance, exercising, learning a musical instrument, etc.
  4. Have a schedule for screen time.
  5. Finally, be a good role model. Show your child how you balance screen time.

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Conclusion

Balance is the key. When making a decision on how your child would spend time online and offline,  keep in mind that not all screen time is the same. An app that teaches your child how to code or solve a puzzle is not the same as watching toy rewiews on Youtube.

Optimise positive screen time by helping your child choose the right type of activities to do online.

 

Here are tips to you keep children safe in the digital age : 

Tips for Non-Tech Savy Mums :4 tips to digital parenting for non-tech savy mums

Stop kids from being datafied : Are your children datafied from birth

3 dangerous places for children to be online : 3 places kids should have limited internet access

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