Today was one of those days where I had so many urgent things I had to get done that I ended up plonking my toddler in front of the television for more hours than I’d like to admit to. As I said to Cardiff Daddy when he got home from work, it was the only way I could achieve anything (and believe me, I’d tried the alternatives).
I felt so guilty, and a little upset if I’m honest.
I’m sure we’ve all read the reports about the damaging effects of kids having too much screen time. One recent study found that three and four year olds were online for an average of 71 minutes a day, or 8 hours and 18 minutes a week – an hour and a half more than the previous year. When you add in TV and video games, the average daily on screen time for children under five is over four hours. A third of pre-schoolers own their own media device such as a tablet or games console. And the average five to 15-year-old spends 15 hours a week online plus 13-and-a-half-hours watching TV.
One wellbeing expert, Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, the clinical director of the Priory’s Wellbeing Clinics, thinks screen time should be limited, saying, “Screen time stimulates the ‘reward centre’ of pre-school children’s brains, acting as a digital drug, so they will want more and more of it.”
It’s no wonder we feel so guilty when we resort to letting the telly babysit our kids.
But then, when I told all this to Cardiff Daddy when he got home from work, he reminded me that none of the kids had watched any television for the last four days. They’d been to the park, played in the garden, created things with Lego, done colouring, played board games and made up all manner of random make believe games.
Deep down I know they have a balanced life. They get plenty of fresh air and we’re always out on adventures. They do various after school/pre-school activities, they read or are read to, they go to the theatre etc. They also have to be bored and just see where their imaginations take them. I guess we are in the minority as we don’t have a tablet and the children don’t really use apps on our phones. (I know that sounds so hypocritical seeing as social media and my smart phone are such a big part of my job and life.) They’ve occasionally played on apps on other people’s phones and they use iPads at school, but they’ve never asked for one at home… so I figured we’d keep it that way for a while longer.)
Put into context, the odd day of binge TV watching doesn’t hurt too much, I figured. In fact, I love a good binge session of whatever series I’m watching, so why wouldn’t children every now and again too?
It really got me thinking about how much screen time other children have and how different families regulate TVs and electronic devices in their households. Here, nine mums reveal how things work in their families.
We all parent differently, so please be respectful of other people’s viewpoints
“Our children regulate their own screen time”
Rachel is a mum of three children aged 2, 4 and 5. She blogs at Coffee Cake Kids
“I don’t set limits. When they first had tablets at Christmas, they watched them more than I liked but I can’t remember the last time they were switched on because they choose to play outside now the weather is better. They might watch half an hour or so of TV after school but I’ve realised they’re pretty good at self-regulating, and as long as they’re getting plenty of outdoors time, I’m happy.
Once or twice when the tablets were new and a novelty I had to tell them they had been on them for too long, but not for months. They’ve been watching the tablets whilst they’ve eaten lunch but they’re now cast aside for their cars and garage.”
“We have no limits – but our kids are happiest outdoors”
Jen Dixon is a mum of two children aged 6 and 9. She blogs at My Mummy’s Pennies
“We don’t have limits set however we find we don’t need to as both our children are happiest playing outdoors and although they do have tablets, which they enjoy using on journeys etc, they will sit unused for weeks at a time. With TV time, we use it to chill out on weekend mornings and watch movies together but again I’ve never felt the need to set limits as such.”
“Technology affects my son’s behaviour – but I worry not using it may hold him back”
Mary-Kate is a mum of two children, aged 7 and 3. She blogs at Mummy Memories
“We don’t have set limits on TV. I do sometimes hide the remote though! I limit what they are allowed to watch as some things send them hyper and my seven-year old’s behaviour can be awful after watching Power Rangers, for example. They’ve got a tablet but they haven’t used it much at all. I get it out every now and then but feel it makes them unable to notice the world around them… but then I worry I’m holding my seven-year-old back! Should he be playing more games? Will he be behind his friends? It’s easy to over-think these things! He is seven years old – go play with a football! Sometimes, CBeebies has given me a much needed break though and I don’t feel bad about that.”
“The internet is great for home educating – but we also have a weekly technology-free day”
Kelly is a home-educating mum of two, age 8 and 6. She blogs at Kelly Allen Writer
“We can be very relaxed about screen time one day, then the next have a no tech day for everyone. We tend to have a midweek ‘Sunday’, because we are usually manic on weekends, and my eight-year-old son tends to react a bit crazily to tech so days off are helpful for him. They have tablets they hardly use, but YouTube and games are very popular; I see Minecraft as mathematical and architectural. From a home ed perspective, we use YouTube to research things they’re interested in. For example, my son looked for videos on how the Titanic sank. I think Google and YouTube are the best resources these days for research since libraries seem to be dying out (I hate saying that) where we live. Our library is tiny and we order a lot from it so it’s good to have other options such as search engines to find out information there and then.”
“We limit it to no more than three hours a day”
Jenna is mum to one daughter aged 2. She blogs at And Then There Were Three
“For me it varies on the day. Usually we limit it to about three hours a day and definitely not before bedtime. However the last few days my toddler has been poorly so I’ve let her cuddle up in bed watching Peppa Pig. As long as they are getting out and about doing other things I don’t see any harm in it – everything in moderation.”
“I have extremely strong feelings on kids and technology”
Sophia is a mum of one, aged 15 months. She blogs at Tattooed Tea Lady
“We always have the TV as ‘background noise’, a bad habit of mine! But my daughter is under no circumstances allowed to play with phones, tablets or games consoles. These are for adults, not children, and I’d much rather play with her or she read books, colour, play independently, than use a phone or tablet to parent her for me. I think there is a huge difference with your little one learning how to use technology, which they will, of course, need to learn, and using technology as a distraction tactic to make your child be quiet.
My degree required studying the effects of using phones/tablets/games consoles at a young age for too long and the addictions children quickly get stuck in. It can massively affect their school life and social skills.”
“It’s harder to be screen-free when you have more than one child”
Naomi is a mum of two, aged 2 and 5. She blogs at Nomi Palony
“We don’t really set limits. Quite frankly I think it’s the world they are growing up in. My son is in reception class and already they do some learning on iPads. Coding is now on the curriculum for junior school! It’s not like when we were young anymore. They can do a lot of learning with them. Normally I’ve found my children self-regulate well and will usually much prefer to play outside etc. Like with any task, younger children generally have a short attention span and will get bored and move on to another task. I recently let my 5.5 year old get Minecraft though and he loves it. It’s amazing to see how proficient he is at building worlds in it. But he will play on that for a long time so we’ve just started introducing some limits for him. I think it’s like anything; it’s about balance. If they’ve played with toys, played outside, done some crafts/art or education, I’ve no problem with some screen time. If they are doing it at the expense of those things or it begins to affect their behaviour, then I start restricting it. Like most things, it’s just common sense.
Additionally I would say that it’s easy to keep one child away from screens but when you have multiple children with multiple needs, then sometimes it’s a helpful tool in getting through the damn day. My two-year old wouldn’t have an iPad if my five-year-old didn’t but obviously felt very put out when he used his. When she was a baby to 18 months she would only nap on me, so my eldest would be allowed iPad time as an attempt to keep him quiet and occupied so she could take a decent nap. Otherwise, he would wake her playing loudly and then she would be cranky and he’d get less attention the rest of the day.
We are all doing our best in our individual circumstances and it’s not for us to judge others.”
“The iPad massively helps my son, who has autism”
Jo is mum to one child, age four. She blogs at First Time Valley Mam
“I have no limits! My son takes his iPad everywhere, on the bus to school, and I then take it home with me. Even to bed. Bad mam alert! It helps him to even go in his room. He can’t lay down and shut down to sleep but will lay down with his iPad, meaning he drops off to sleep earlier. It helps him when he is out and about as otherwise he can get overstimulated. In this big scary world, that’s the only thing he can control.”
“As a childminder, I’ve seen the impact of too much screen time”
Clare is a mum of two, aged 5 and 2, and blogs at Clare’s Little Tots
“As a childminder I have personally seen the impact of too much screen time at a young age (I’m talking about hours and hours a day here). I can always tell those who have access to a lot of screen time compared to those who don’t. They often struggle to concentrate, have poor behaviour and struggle with actually playing.
I spent months teaching a little one how to actually play as at home they had a constant stream of Peppa Pig on the iPad. They would often just sit on the sofa and not know what to do so would wait for instruction from me.
It’s very rare I have the TV on whilst working. Just the occasional film on for older kids during the school holidays. Even having the TV on as background can affect concentration levels and attention span.
Saying that though both my two and five year old have screen time. Maybe up to an hour a day each but I make sure they also spend plenty of quality time playing, creating and being outdoors etc.”
“My 17-year-old does her own thing”
Naomi is mum to a 17 year old and blogs at Tattooed Mummy
“My daughter is 17 and spends a lot of time on either YouTube (in the background whatever she’s doing) or on Snapchat. At 12 we tried her with no regulation over the summer holidays, she did nothing but watch TV. Now she’s 17 we mostly let her do her own thing, but she is hooked to the screen 24/7 so we have to tell her to put it away at meal times and when she should be studying. She’s pretty good when we tell her that’s enough. I save turning the wifi off as a last resort! But she knows I will!