LauraMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 21-Jun-17 10:31:46

Guest post: "We can stop screen time competing with family time"

Educational psychologist Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon explains how we can ensure our children have a balanced relationship with technology

Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon

Educational psychologist at Cardiff Flying Start

Posted on: Wed 21-Jun-17 10:31:45


Lead photo

"Technology is changing, but the role of parents in providing safe limits remains the same over time"

Screen time can come in many forms, and when you count them all up you might be surprised by the number of hours your children are spending in front of a digital display. From wildlife documentaries and playing video games, to catching up with vlogs or doing homework - it's no wonder that parents often feel worried or conflicted about the amount of time their children spend in front of screens.

Last year, a survey commissioned by the Welsh Government of parents of under-fives in Wales last year found that more than a quarter listed their child’s use of technology, such as smart phones, computers, tablets and similar devices as one of their top three parenting concerns. Because, while technology can be a way to offer children down time, and a practical way to entertain while getting on with household tasks - it can also be difficult to regulate.

Advice from UK agencies on what constitutes a ‘healthy’ use of technology for children can be thin on the ground. In the United States though, advice has been more forthcoming. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that infants aged 18 months and younger should not be exposed to any digital media, and that screen time should be limited to one hour per day for children aged two to five. When using a gadget, children should look away regularly into the distance to allow their eyes to rest. In the UK, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines link limiting screen time with maintaining a healthy weight. Moreover,

Technology can be a way to offer children down time, but it can also be difficult to regulate

a recent study has shown that the more time children under two spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other handheld devices, the more likely they are to begin talking at a later age.

Talking with children about what’s going on in their game or on the television can enrich the experience for them. Try to choose age-appropriate apps or games that encourage creativity problem-solving or social skills (e.g. taking turns in games), rather than those which displace the need for human interaction. The National Literacy Trust has useful tips and recommendations for apps on its website.

When it’s time to turn the device off though - things can get tricky. This is largely because children learn by observing others - they watch their parents and older siblings making use of technology, and follow suit. If we’re frequently checking phones or going online, children will want to mirror our behaviour. I suggest consciously selecting a place in the home where mobile devices are stored, and only getting them out if you need to contact someone or want to use it purposefully. With time, this practice will be mirrored by your children.

If you’re after a win-win, think about ways to incorporate your devices’ amazing tech capacities into other bonding activities. Edit together video clips of family adventures, or create memory boards of shared experiences. Collaborating to tell stories about shared family experiences helps children to revisit memories, make emotional and social connections, improve recall, and incorporate new words in their vocabulary. As an added bonus, you’ll create lasting family souvenirs.

Technology is constantly changing and affects every aspect of our lives, but the role of parents in providing safe, caring limits remains unchanged over time. Just like a new piece of playground equipment, devices are fun but also present risks and dangers. By involving ourselves in our child’s use of technology, we can stop screen time competing with family time.

By Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon

Twitter: @mumsnettowers

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