Screen Time & Healthy Balance
What is screen time?
Screen time is any amount of time spent in front of a screen on any device. Digital devices provide many great opportunities for the whole family, including activities for learning and creativity, as well as entertainment and enjoyment. During the Covid-19 pandemic, these benefits became even more important and screen time increased. However, we hear from parents and carers that managing screen time can be a source of conflict with their children. When it comes to children and technology, parents and carers have long been asking the same question:
How much screen time is OK for my child?
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) have produced guidance for screen time for under-18s. Drawing on research and studies on the impacts of screen time, they have concluded that there is no ‘recommended’ or ‘set amount’ of time that children should be limited to on devices. Instead the focus should be on ensuring that time spent on devices does not replace sleep, exercise, or family time. They advise that devices should be avoided in the hour before bed to promote healthy sleep and have provided the following checklist to help parents and carers make decisions about their family's screen time use:
Is your family's screen time under control?
Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
Does screen use interfere with sleep?
Are you able to control snacking during screen time?
Dr Russel Viner, President of the RCPCH comments on screen time, stating that,
"One size doesn't fit all, parents need to think about what's useful and helpful for their child."
"Parents should consider their own use of screens, if screen time is controlled in their family, and if excessive use is affecting their child's development and everyday life."
Is screen time bad for my child?
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Using devices offer many opportunities, but of course there are risks as well. Most experts think it’s more important to focus on quality over quantity. For example, think about the value your child gets from different screen-based activities (talking with friends and family, doing homework, watching videos, playing games, etc). Going online has many benefits. Whilst there are risks (communication from strangers, violent content, sexual content, etc) there are things you can do to help manage these – see our Let’s Talk about Life Online advice.
What is the best way to address screen time with my family?
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If you’re worried that excessive use of devices is impacting your family, start with an open and honest conversation. Remember that trying to actively count or keep track of screen time hours may fail to take into account the value and opportunities provided by using devices, and raise anxiety levels unnecessarily. It’s important to consider the bigger picture of how, when and where your family is using technology: creating a family technology plan is one way to do this. Our Family Agreement could help you start this plan and create guidelines for everyone to follow.
How can I support my child with managing their screen time?
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If you are concerned that excessive use of technology is impacting your family, then there are steps you can take to manage this. An open dialogue is important here. Have conversations and help your child to recognise how going online makes them feel and the importance of taking a break when they need to. Younger children may need additional support in doing this, such as timers and reminders. For older children you could also encourage them to turn off notifications, which will help them get used to checking their device and apps on their terms, instead of when they hear/see the notification. Another useful tip is to help remind them of the things they love to do offline; this will encourage a healthy mix of online and offline activities.
Can my child become ‘addicted’ to their devices?
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At Childnet, we try to avoid using the word ‘addicted’ in relation to technology, as it implies that a person’s use of it is out of their control, when in fact we want to encourage children to take responsibility for the way they use their devices. If you are worried about the amount of time your child spends on their devices there’s lots you can do to help. Encouraging and supporting them to use screen time settings to monitor their time, as well as helping them turn off features like notifications, can make a huge difference. It’s important to let them know how you feel, and remaining calm during the conversation will mean they are more likely to listen. Why not start by offering to put your own devices aside for a short period of time, and ask if they would consider doing the same whilst you talk. Remember: you are a great example for your child, so try to role model a healthy online/offline balance.
There are lots of simple things you can do as a parent/ carer to ensure that you feel confident about your child’s interaction with technology, and set achievable goals that work for your family.
Click below to find tailored advice and top tips for supporting children of different ages with their screen time:
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