Many parents and teachers are worried that children are spending too much time looking at screens.
It used to be only the living room TV, now it is the mobile phone and tablet competing with lap tops and flat screen TVs in almost every room.
Social media, gaming, watching TV and even homework involve use of screens. With so much information bombarding our children it is easy to see how they could be spending less time engaging in other, perhaps more healthy, activities.
The Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health RCPCH recently published a report advising parents on screen time but it stopped short of giving a recommendation of a time limit instead suggesting four questions parents should ask in order to determine if the screen time is too much.
1. Is your family’s screen time under control?
2. Does screen use interfere with what your family wants to do?
3. Does screen use interfere with sleep?
4. Are you able to control snacking during screen time?
“It is important to encourage parents to do what is right by their family,” says Dr Max Davie, the college’s officer for health promotion. “We suggest that age-appropriate boundaries are established, negotiated by parent and child that everyone in the family understands.”
Last year, Anne Longfield published the Digital 5 A Day campaign, which encouraged the whole family to have a healthy digital lifestyle, including parents.
“It can’t be that parents have their phones in their hand the whole time. It works best if the whole family can look into a healthy digital way of life.”
Anne Longfield’s tips for managing screen time include:
○ Set some boundaries. You wouldn’t let a nine-year-old walk alone down a busy road. Phone use is the same, if a child has a smartphone at a young age you need to be aware of the dangers on their behalf.
○ If screen time is affecting sleep, meal time interaction, diet, and exercise then negotiate and make a deal. This might be that the phone is not used at the dinner table or in the bedroom, or before breakfast, or until homework is completed.
○ Consider your own use, parents need to demonstrate good behaviour.
In school we have extended our ban on mobile phone use outside of the classroom to include anywhere inside the building. Parents have been supportive of this and the confiscation of any phones when this rule is not observed.
We now see students talking to each other around the lunch table and in the social areas rather than using phones.
We can’t roll the clock back and screens play in important part in all our lives but as parents and teachers we have a role in trying to limit that time and encourage our children to get out and exercise, read a book or learn a new skill.
I do believe that these things will all have a positive impact on a child’s mental health even if the negative impact of screen time can’t be proven.