Screen time… It’s one of those tricky topics to deal with from day to day as parents. Everyone has different values attached to screen time with kids, and there are some benefits as parents use the TV to keep kids happy during peak hour times of the day. Most of us do it… it’s all about having a routine that works for your family and for the best outcome in promoting learning. Recommendations for screen time generally are much lower than actual use it seems, and can be a contentious topic.
I was contacted by 3AW Melbourne radio last week to comment on this, and it got me thinking about what is realistic and what is ‘good' for our kids, and the downsides of having too much screen time.
Screen time is not just TV time these days. And, just for the record, I’m not just talking about reducing screen time for the kids. I’m talking adults and children here – EQUALLY.
5 Reasons Why Reduced Screen Time Will Make Your Family Life Easier
1. Morning and evening routines go smoother
It’s really, really common to have the TV on in the morning, as well as the afternoon. I work with so many families who struggle to get out the door in the morning and most of them have the TV on. Many parents say it’s helpful (TV baby sitter), but children get extremely distracted, and get really upset when adults interrupt their program to eat, brush their teeth, etc. Wouldn't you be upset if you were interrupted from your favourite program regularly to do something?
By not having the TV on, especially in the morning, you can teach children to be independent and self-sufficient in getting through the morning. Make up a list of self-care tasks (eat, clean teeth, pack bag, etc) and add in at least 2 -4 small household jobs that need doing. Start small with the extra jobs and gradually build them up. Create a list or some pictures or visuals and put them on the fridge door.
Children learn quickly. Rather than telling them over and over (also known as nagging!), if they get off track, ask them “what are you up to on your list? How about you go and check the list and see what you need to do next.”
2. Your child will be able to concentrate better at school with no screen time before school.
Screen time and TV has been shown to impact on children’s concentration in the classroom. Many teachers I’ve worked with tell me they can tell each day who has had screen time in the morning by the children’s concentration and attention levels!
A better option is to swap screen time for some active play. Trampolines are my personal favourite, but bouncing on an exercise ball, running around the back yard or having a quick swing is very instrumental in preparing the body through movement and muscle input to be ready for concentrating. The reticular formation is a small part of the brain that responds especially to up-and-down movement, feeding and preparing the nervous system to be ready for sitting, learning and taking in new information.
3. It’s not a good example and what are we teaching our children?
OK, this point is aimed at adults. No apologies, and I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of this too most days. When we get distracted by mobile devices, we get distracted as adults and easily 5 minutes can disappear from our day. In that time of distraction, we miss important conversations from our children, and often we are annoyed from being interrupted! The need for children to have our attention, especially in the peak hour family times of day is very important to their sense of belonging and being heard. By being distracted, we are not being there for them, they feel frustrated, we feel frustrated by them interrupting us, and we are not providing good role models for engaged communication and close relationships, which we are expecting them to develop.
So, note to self – be aware of when you are being distracted by screen time and strive to have screen free time from non-essential screen time in the morning and evening peak hours of the day.
4. Screen time for adults will allow YOU to relax and recover from your stressful day quicker.
Now, I’m guilty of this too. After a very busy day, you get home and all you want to do is sit down, catch up on Facebook and return a couple of texts that have come in.
A psychologist explained to me earlier this year that having screen time is one of the worst things we can do to “recover and relax”. Screen time is very stimulating for the brain, even though we feel we are trying to relax.
The best way to quickly recover from a busy day before heading to the kitchen and getting dinner on, getting through homework etc, is to sit down somewhere comfortable and quiet (even the toilet), and do some deep breathing. Hold your breath for 8-10 seconds, then breathe OUT slowly for 3 seconds, and then in and out slowly for 3 seconds each.
5. Too much screen time in the evening can make it difficult for children to get to sleep and their sleep won’t be as good in quality.
Try not to have screen time for 1- 2 hours before bedtime. Encourage active outdoor play if possible. Create a regular and calm night time routine that includes a bath or shower (relaxing), meal time around the table (encouraging communication skills and language and allows you to check in with what happened during the day), and time for relaxing as a family, even if this is a quick story before bedtime.
If we don’t reduce or limit screen time and create good routines in our family units, we run the risk of:
1. Children learning a chunk of their communication skills and values from the TV.
2. Children won’t be able to concentrate, learn and focus in school as well as they could.
3. We are teaching children that it’s OK to be distracted by mobile devices and reduce the opportunities to interact with them, engage with them and be aware of their needs.
4. We increase the risk of obesity as children will have less opportunity for exercise and they tend to eat more when watching TV.
5. We are teaching them that screen time may be a coping strategy for distancing ourselves from our problems and strategies that actually don’t help us relax and defrag after a busy day.
Excuse me, my 7 year old just woke up, and he needs my attention to help with homework. Time to turn off my screen.