The new school-year has now begun and we all know getting back on track will take some time. This year there has been a lot of talk about bullying and about how to make children’s lives more interesting and fulfilled with different devices/screens.
I actually wish to talk a little about how all those screens affect our children and our youth, and about who decides how much and when screens should be used at home.
It is now widely known that usage of any devices with screens affect grades, ability to concentrate, relationships with family/friends, the length and quality of sleep, mental and physical wellbeing. The aforementioned list is actually much longer but these are the ones I would like to bring out today.
What is screen-time, how to know if your family has problems with it and need it regulated?
Screen-time is all the hours/minutes you spend on your smartphone, e-reader, tablet, watching tv or sitting behind a PC, alongside with different electronic games.
Parents should be alerted if the child is continuously tired in the mornings, spends most of their time in their rooms with their door closed or in front of the tv; when they do not wish to attend any hobby circles, do not meet up with friends in person but prefer time with their virtual friends instead, does not wish to eat breakfast or dinner with their family and choice of food is snacks over warm home-cooked food. The child/youth will also get easily irritated when parents interrupt them when they’re on a device or just wish to talk to them.
According to the British health system, it is recommended to limit screen-time depending on age.
- If your child is aged 0-2 (or even until 3 years), it is better not to allow any screen-time at all. It is scientifically proven that the child develops the best through immediate contact with an adult and direct communication is necessary.
- If your child is aged 2-5, it is recommended to give 1h screen-time per day.
- If they’re aged 5-18, then the screen-time allowance should be maximum 2 hours per day.
Some parents may think that the above is impossible, as when the child gets older they will have to spend more time behind a PC for homework. Here I would like to mention that screen-time does not include the time spent on homework and we only speak of the leisure time when the child/teenager decides what they want to do.
So that the child can be reached by the parents, a simple phone with actual buttons is good enough. Even if they have a smartphone with a touch screen, I advise not to connect it to the Internet – that way the child will not spend all their free time on the phone seeking entertainment. And also a good stylish watch would be a bonus step to stop a child reaching for the phone just to check the time.
To strict the screen-time at home, I have some tips for you as well:
1. Be an example. Place a box just next to the door so whoever enters the house (yes, even you!), they have to leave their phones in the box (as turned off or on silent). Researches in the US have shown that in general, children send 200 messages per day and most of these are sent when they are in their rooms, lights turned off, while parents think they are sleeping. And if the child needs it as an alarm clock, you can get them a real alarm clock fit for the purpose.
2. Explain the reasons why you are implementing screen-time restrictions and what is the goal/result/positive outcome. For example, the child’s better mental and physical health (as they are not sitting in a bad position behind the screen, also there will be less aggressive emotions and passivity towards the surroundings).
3. Two hours before bedtime it is recommended for everyone (no matter the age) to avoid watching any screens. What to do with those two hours? Play board games, read a book/magazine, make plans with your family for the weekend, colour or draw, craft something etc.
4. If the child has a PC or a TV in their room, take these to the living room instead. This would ensure that the PC will be used for home-work mostly and in reality, TV does not belong to the bedroom anyway. Additionally you can place limitations on the PC to deny access to any social media pages and to games sites. This way you lessen the risk of the child becoming a victim of cyber bullying or to any other dangers through suspicious sites. Children can be very easily influenced so it’s best to be careful.
How to start with all of this? I have a guideline for you as to what to do and how.
- Write out all the rules on a paper sheet and place it where everyone can see it.
- Do not give up even if your child starts to beg and whine, as rules are there to follow and this is a decision that will benefit everyone.
- Find different activities as to what to do with the whole family instead of sitting behind the screens.
Be ready for some tantrums and unhappy behaviour for the first 1-2 weeks for implementing rules over the screen-time, and usually it is more difficult with boys. The good news is that if you do not give in, over time children stop wishing to use screens and start finding other fun activities to do. Your popularity will fall in the beginning but in the long run it will only have positive results.
Limiting screen-time can also be used as a disciplinary measure, which means that if all the home-work is done and they are behaving well, then they can use their allowed screen-time, otherwise you can take it away but please do be careful with this.
For example, your child is reading a book and you ask them to do something. If you get an answer that they only have a page or a chapter left and they will do it once finished, consider it as completely normal. This is not something that you should limit the screen-time for or take it away only because the child didn’t jump up and do the task you asked them to do. Please be flexible with this and decide depending on the situation.
(Photo is illustrative and is from Internet)
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Have fun away from the screens!