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Please could we have your thoughts on screen time and whether it's possible to limit it to very little?

(98 Posts)
JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 08-Oct-12 20:02:12

We're being asked to comment by radio 5 live on a review of the evidence of the harms involved in children watching TV that's being published tomorrow in Archives of Disease in Childhood, part of the BMJ stable.

The author is suggesting there should be limits - and that under the age of 3 children should have no screen time at all (that's ipads and other computers as well as TVs). Then he says it can be phased in to no more than two hours over the age of 16.

I have to say though aware that too much screen time is undesirable, I'm surprised there aren't positives in limited screen time. Also it's bleedin' hard to control, given how much children love this stuff.

Would be very interested to know your thoughts.

ZombTEE Tue 09-Oct-12 06:09:13

Really not sure how it would work as the primary school that is our first choice for our son has computers in every classroom and the use of them is integrated into lessons all day.

The internet is a huge research tool. Why should I limit my son's access to knowledge just because it's on a screen instead of in a book?

We did limit our son up to the age of 2. Now we don't because after he comes home from pre-school (he's just started, he's 3.3) he is exhausted. So he gets to put the TV on when he gets home. Sometimes he sits there like a lump watching it, but more often he plays with other things at the same time.

I notice Justine hasn't said what will happen to a child who has more than that ridiculously small amount of TV. Will their brains explode?

Didn't think so.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 09-Oct-12 07:01:10

Thanks for all the comments. This report in the Guardian that explains more about the report and the suggested impact of screen time.

handbagCrab Tue 09-Oct-12 07:11:34

Hmmmm. So perhaps it's about how technology is used and integrated into a healthy lifestyle as opposed to the technology itself?

lubeybooby Tue 09-Oct-12 07:11:45

My DD is 16 now and I have never limited her screen time, and shock horror I even allowed her a TV in her bedroom to watch DVD's on from the age of 6.

She did self limit though and go and do other things of her own accord even as a very small child. And the times she was watching TV or on a PC I had to parent her as well, she was never left to it. We would watch together and discuss things.

What supposed harm is it meant to do? Because I have one very happy, healthy, clever, hardworking, polite, kind teen who has never given me even a days trouble.

handbagCrab Tue 09-Oct-12 07:19:09

Are the studies comparing poor dc who are neglected and strapped in their buggy all day with only cbeebies for company with very hippy middle class children who don't have anything more advanced than a spinning Jenny in the home?

We're studies done in the say 1920s on how a child's brain developed and we are comparing those with now? My parents used to watch tv and go to the cinema in the 50s/60s, me and DH had loads of exposure in the 80s. Who are we comparing these children to?

ZombTEE Tue 09-Oct-12 07:34:38

Ah, so it's not the watching. It's the sitting there!

So why not point out that reading is just as bad? Or painting. Or really anything that isn't sport? Why pick on screens?

As I said, my son rarely just sits and watches. He's usually jumping around or playing with something.

CelineMcBean Tue 09-Oct-12 08:17:45

Oh Justine you didn't say it was Aric Sigman! The man is properly bonkers! He has come out with some extremely dubious stuff in the past.

Tbh now I know it's him and his agenda I am confident it's all a lot of tosh. Haven't some of his "research methods" been discredited before? <<Googles>>

Lexilicious Tue 09-Oct-12 08:24:08

The first paragraph of that article is bollocks. "By the age of 7, a child born today in the UK will have spent a year of 24h/day in front of a screen". That means one-seventh of their life. Not possible. More than half of their life up to about 18 months is spent asleep, and about another 4 hours a day eating. That would then mean nearly a half of their remaining waking time would have to be plonked in front of a screen - 4 hrs a day. I cannot imagine that at all. My 3yo sleeps 11 hours a night so that's still about 4 hours per day to fit in with this average. It's either outrageous counting of any glimpse of a screen by the study, or ridiculously lazy journalism interpreting it.

NeverKnowinglyUnderstood Tue 09-Oct-12 08:29:38

for us, we do what works for our family.
we don't have screens in the childrens bedrooms
we have 1 tv in the sitting room only.
They have always been restricted on their computer time and tv time.
at the weekends the tv goes off at 9.30am (it may come back on later in the afternoon though)

CelineMcBean Tue 09-Oct-12 08:30:24

According to that Guardian link it's all hypothesis any way and even Sigman hasn't proved causation.

Sigman acknowledges that none of the studies prove that screens cause children harm. "The associations between screen time and health risk cited … do not prove direct causation," he writes.

Without a link to the actual study it is hard to be accurate but the indication from that press piece is that the issue is one of inactivity (i can think of loads of reasons for that including the change in our attitude to children's freedoms and play over the last 40 years) and the other is neglect. Not bothering to interact for hours at a time and substituting parenting with screen watching is instinctively harmful - but so would leaving a child on their own in a cot or with just a doll or a book.

I would expect inactivity and lack of interaction are the problems and excess screen time is just the latest method of crappy parenting.

Lexilicious Tue 09-Oct-12 08:32:48

actual article - link in guardian is broken. I don't have an Athens account so can't read the full text.

Still think it's unrepresentative bollocks. Flits between US and Europe examples in just the first three paragraphs. I would like to know the source of the data counting how many screens to which children have unrestricted access in the average household.

And what about physical Wii games - surely a conundrum if the hypothesis is that screen time is sedentary and passive.

Lexilicious Tue 09-Oct-12 08:34:54

But he's getting his article talked about, and people will do studies to disprove his vague correlations, so he'll get citations. Doesn't matter whether a citation is positive or negative, it bumps you up the rankings!!!

CelineMcBean Tue 09-Oct-12 08:35:18

Ooh I have an Athens password. I think. Will try to get article

CelineMcBean Tue 09-Oct-12 08:41:08

Working link here:

nextphase Tue 09-Oct-12 08:42:47

well, DS1 was practically screen free til he was 2 (had maybe 30 mins a week of TV in the minority language of the house). Then DS2 arrived, and we discovered CeeBeebies! Screen time went through the roof in the early days of bf. It has now settled down to 15 mins in the mornings before nursery, as I need some time to get me clean and dressed (DH working away a lot at the moment), and another 15-30 mins in the evenings. I think thats quite a lot.

Because of this DS2 has had screen time since he was tiny.

Its about the only time they will sit still, except for me reading to them. I'd love for it not to be screen time, but do think they need to sit down once in a while!

Lexilicious Tue 09-Oct-12 08:47:30

Thanks celine!

CelineMcBean Tue 09-Oct-12 09:02:33

I have just skimmed the article (on my iPhone as it happens). Tenuous is the word that springs to mind. He appears to be approaching this with the attitude that screen time is bad. His lack of evidence and evidence selection seems to be a bit off. Some of the studies cited claim children spend hours a day glued to screens. They would have to be watching almost continuously from waking to sleeping with the exception of school time to achieve some of those figures.

He disregards or does not suggest alternative causes. He doesn't look at the social causes of why we use screens more. Just saying "don't use them as much because they might be bad for you" which IMHO is what he's implying, is not really robust enough for me.

It's clear he's pushing an agenda and I would go so far as to say he has picked "evidence" that fits his pet theory rather than conducting a wide review.

Has Ben Goldacre got hold of this yet? Can't wait to see what he makes of it!

CailinDana Tue 09-Oct-12 09:07:39

Excuse my language but what utter bollocks. In 50 years people will look back on attitudes like this and laugh, the same way we laugh at the idea that women's wombs would fall out if they played sport that was too vigorous or that reading Jane Austen was harmful to a woman's virtue. TV and computers are still relatively new and modern and it's going to take some time before the world's ills are no longer pinned on it. Of course by that time there will be some other bogey man that can be blamed for the world going wrong, when in fact it's just humans being shitty to other humans that causes suffering and that doesn't change no matter what's in our living rooms.

What the report seems to ignore is the fact that a child who spends 3-4 or more solid hours a day, every day, in front of a tv is being neglected. A neglected child will always show some ill effect later in life. Of course children who are neglected will show a lack of social skills, lack of empathy and perhaps an inability to concentrate later in life - that's what you would expect, and that's what happened to neglected children long before tv was ever invented. It's far better that that child at least has a tv to keep him/her company and teach him/her language than that they're locked on their own in a dark room with no entertainment at all.

People have been sitting down to be entertained by others since the human race could talk. The fact that the others happen to be on a screen rather than in person doesn't take from the value of that activity. Going to the theatre isn't more worthy just because it costs more money. Doing any activity for long long hours, to the exclusion of other activities, isn't healthy, and that includes sport and reading.

CelineMcBean Tue 09-Oct-12 09:12:55

Can I add that Aric Sigman used to be all over kids' telly in the 1980s. I remember him on Going Live. Seems a bit bitter now the tv work has dried up...

MainlyMaynie Tue 09-Oct-12 09:36:09

Ah, it's about inactivity. I thought there was actually going to be a study on whether use of ipads etc. had positive or negative impacts, which would have been interesting. I agree it's not good to limit physical activity, but I don't think that's incompatible with a bit of screen time. DS watches youtube videos on the ipad and joins in with the dancing. Lots of activities we're encouraged to do with young children involve sitting still, like reading, stacking blocks etc.. A toddler left to choose will only sit still for a couple of minutes anyway.

bigkidsdidit Tue 09-Oct-12 09:39:28

I don't understand how sitting watching a screen is any worse than sitting reading a book? Still inactivity.

I limit my toddler to 30 minutes a day but I will not be going completely telly free. He loves it, he's learnt loads of words and races round doing the dance at the end of Night Garden. I don't see that as a bad thing.

Incidentally (anecdata alert!) I didn't have a telly till I was 10 and now I ADORE it and watch loads.

OhGood Tue 09-Oct-12 09:53:04

I try really hard to limit it. DD is 2.5. At a CM, so I have to take into account screentime there. So she gets 15 mins of Peppa Pig (all she will watch) at home most nights after supper. We also YouTube for animated nursery rhymes.

Some things I think / have noticed / believe - about my DD, can't comment otherwise:

I think ads are actively damaging (esp for body image issues) and I won't let her watch them until she is old enough to use imaging software herself.

Even faintly age-inappropriate content gets her disturbed and upset.

She has very distinct and vivid dreams about stuff she has seen on TV.

If she watches TV in the hour before bed she won't settle well. Fact.

One win is sing/dance/yoga/bounce-around style toddler short clips, which we find on YouTube and all dance around to. I also like these because they look 'real' - hokey production values, filmed in the garden, messy kids.

I would like some properly reasoned and researched information on this whole issue. For a start, it seems to me that there are huge differences in sitting watching TV and playing an interactive spelling game on a phone or tablet. Saying 'no screen time' is not a useful, informed response. I would also like some better information about programming schedules, which should include information about what's age-appropriate and why. I would like to know which programmes we can sit together and count or spell or sing to. I think all advertising against children's programmes should be banned.

wintersnight Tue 09-Oct-12 09:57:19

What about screen time where children are actively using computers so for example learning to program at code club You need to differentiate between active and passive activities rather than saying all screen time is bad.

BegoniaBigtoes Tue 09-Oct-12 10:05:50

Screen time is generally unlimited in our house, that is there's no formal time maximum - but we do actively suggest other exciting things to do / go out a lot / have a garden etc. and will distract the DC from the telly or if necessary turn it off if it's been too long. We also use it as a reward so for example, no kids' telly in the morning until everyone's dressed and ready. However we watch the news, so the tv is actually on!

I do dislike excessive ads and we mainly avoid them by watching recorded things.

The kids love computer stuff and use laptops, ipads, and leapster toys. DS aged 7 loves minecraft (creative mode, so not scary) and I'm sure it helps him a lot with his motor control and concentration (and creativity). He is also learning programming from DP. DD aged 2 does jigsaws and puzzles on the ipad. Having kids learn how to use computers is surely one of the best posible things we can do for them - with safeguards of course. It's a skill they will need.

I'm not worried about activity levels at all. My DC are incredibly active, bouncy, energetic and not overweight (DS is so active it's hard to get weight on him, despite a lot of computer time). We go for walks, playground, scootering, soft play, whatever all the time.

I think one important aspect is probably parental involvement. We have no TVs in bedroom, just one telly and an adult is around when they're watching TV/ playing on computers, to discuss things with them, talk about when to switch it off, help out etc. They often self-limit as they decide they'd rather help cook, play with lego, go outside or whatever.

BegoniaBigtoes Tue 09-Oct-12 10:07:57

Oh and given free choice of telly, in the evening when DD is in bed, DS will choose David Attenborough shows or How Do They Do It - massively educational and quality telly. He has learned so much from them and really engages with them. I think we need to beware of equating low activity levels with screen time being evil. It's not.

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