Are you like most of the parents I speak to?
Do you get a kind of sinking feeling in your stomach when your children spend extended amounts of time on screens?
Maybe you feel a mixture of frustration and powerlessness?
And perhaps like most parents, you don’t like the effect screens have on your kids and family life… but you find it really hard to reel screen habits in.
Of course – because children get very attached to their screens and you know they’ll put up a big ruckus if you try to set limits to their gaming/YouTube/cartoon time.
The good news is that while limits are very important, I believe they are only a part of the solution. And when you take a broader, more expanded view on it, the whole process of reducing screen time can feel way more positive.
It doesn’t need to be just about saying no or a crackdown.
The solution is broader than that, which I hope is a little bit reassuring.
In this blog you’ll hear:
- how the World Health Organisation now categorises screen use
- some interesting (alarming?) statistics about British children and screen use
- what I did when my son was younger
- why you have no reason to feel guilty about your children’s screen use
- useful questions that will expand your mind about where the solution may lie for you.
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
So, here are some facts and figures:
Maybe you’re already aware that excessive screen time impacts children’s mental health and that children’s mental health is currently in crisis.
But did you know that the WHO (World Health Organisation) has said that the screens are also affecting us physically?
The WHO now considers screen use a public health matter. The kinds of bodily systems that can be impacted are:
- the storage of bodily fat,
- susceptibility to type two diabetes,
- the development of short-sightedness in children,
- deficits in impulse control,
- and it can cause changes in brain structure.
If you’re UK based you’ll be interested – or alarmed – to hear about a recent global study showing that British children rate second in the world in terms of excessive screen use. This statistic refers to optional screen use, so it’s not to do with school use and doing homework.
Another 2020 study from the WHO shows that a high proportion of children and adolescents, specifically in England, have problematic screen use. In the category of boys gaming, it shows that 17% of our boys at 11 years have problematic gaming habits and 21% of 13 year olds. That’s quite a shocking statistic, don’t you think?
So what can we do about this?
First of all, DON’T PANIC! You can find a way forward, and I’ll be continuing this topic next week, to help you with this. You have the power to make changes and and it doesn’t need to cause major conflict in your family.
I also want to urge you not to blame yourself. This is a global problem and the videos, games and apps that are on devices are designed to be addictive. They are created with this in mind.
You probably had good reasons to allow screen use in your family – and possibly to allow it to increase since the lockdown started. You’ve definitely been overstretched in the last year and a half – the digital babysitter has been in so many cases a lifesaver during COVID.
But as we emerge from the lockdowns, you may have been wondering how to pull screen use back in. So I want to share some tips on how this can be done in a way that that works for you and your children.
I’m not going to give guidance about the exact amount of time children should spend on screens, because I think that’s something for you to work out with your children and in your circumstances. And there are so many different views on this.
I personally took the unusual step of not allowing my son to go on a screen until he was about nine years old. I think this was good for him. I think this may have supported him to become quite a resourceful initiative taker. But I’m not going to be advocating ‘no screens’ because I don’t think that’s realistic for most families.
Also, time has moved on since then, and screens are much more a part of our lives than they were back then, even if that’s just 10 – 15 years ago. I think it’s about and balancing different needs and creating a collaborative way forward with your children, rather than being draconian or dogmatic about it.
Here are some questions that I invite you to ask yourself. Take time to reflect on these and make your observations of yourself and your children, so that, when you feel ready, you can make considered decisions that will last. And be sure to take your children with you in this process.
You’ve got time. It really isn’t about making big changes this week, next week, or even next month.
Consider these questions – and then in my next blog, I’m going to share some ways forward that will help.
#1 – Are you happy with your own screen habits?
It starts with you. Your child takes their cue from you.
Do you look at your phone first thing? I totally hold my hand up and say that I did this until very recently.
I was with a group of women around a campfire a few days ago and this topic came up. Everybody was agreeing that they reach for their phone first thing. But one person pointed out that when you don’t do that, you allow for your own space, your own vibe. Your mood is your own and not influenced by what you’ve just seen online.
My experience confirms this. Just recently, maybe in the last six weeks or so, I haven’t been turning my phone on first thing, because my morning routine has changed. This means that there’s a moment where I suddenly remember, oh yes, there’s my phone, too.
I then really appreciate the space and time that I’ve been given, which isn’t influenced by Facebook and email.
So, are you happy with your own habits regarding screens? Because your children are copying you.
#2 – Are you happy with the habits your children have?
In order to give yourself a sense of this – because sometimes it can be difficult to know – ask yourself this, too: Would you be happy if your children’s habits were to continue or even grow in the same direction, in two to three yers time?
For example, if you’re using screens at mealtimes, would you be happy if this was still the case two or three years down the line?
#3 – How available are you to connect with your children?
This question applies either during screen time or at other times when you’re just hanging out at home. How available do you feel to interact? How present do you feel you are at those times?
#4 – Have your children developed other interests and passions that they really love?
Has your child developed passions for alternative activities that don’t involve a screen?
#5 – Have you attempted to set limits around screens?
If you have, did you do it collaboratively with your children?
#6 – Are screens freely available in every room?
What information does the whereabouts of your screens, devices, remotes and similar things, give to your children about the use of screens and devices in your home?
What I mean by this is, are screens freely available in every room? Are remote controls lying around? What’s the physical layout?
Spend some time on these questions, see what you come up with, and I’ll be back next week to share some next steps that will help you find a way forward that feels good to you and good to your children.
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