The answer is…. (drum roll); there is no magic formula. Sorry! However, what can be said is that there is a lot that we can do as parents, to ensure our children balance watching TV with other activities. Like many things, it requires a little hard work to ensure that your child does not succumb to the modern dilemma of far too much time indoors, staring at a screen.
So, let’s get the harsh bit over first, shall we? For any child, spending too much time watching TV, playing computer games, or using devices like tablets and phones, carries some negative side effects. These include a global increase in childhood obesity, an inability to sleep well, academic challenges, lethargy in pursuing other activities, a lack of social skills, and the propensity to set up a negative habit for life.
On the flip side, you can’t deny that there are many child-orientated TV programmes, educational games, and apps that are developed to enhance your child’s cognitive development. These help to create new experiences that enhance and progress early learning. Many parents are also concerned that if their children aren’t as tech-savvy as their peers that they might be left behind. Not to mention that every parent is in need of a ‘screen babysitter’ at some stage or another, whether it’s to work, do chores or just have a few minutes of peace to enjoy a cup of tea. And for those who say that they don’t, they’ve either been blessed with an unfair superpower, or they have the best behaved child ever!
So, what can we do to ensure that we give our little ones the very best of all worlds, and avoid the pitfalls of too much screen time?
The US Department of Health’s 2013 recommendation was that children under the age of 2 should not have any screen time, and that children between 2 and 6 should be limited to a maximum of 2 hours a day. One way to achieve balance is by splitting your child’s time evenly between screen time and outdoor play and other activities.
You can encourage other activities by making sure the resources are readily available. Ensure that art supplies like paper, paints, and crayons, age-appropriate books, and sports equipment like balls, bicycles, or tricycles are as prominent in your home as the TV or computer.
Set the Example:
Yes, it’s true. It’s up to the parent to set the healthy, positive example. Remember that your child will model their behaviour after yours. Limit your own screen time by not watching too much TV and refrain from using your phone when engaging with your child. This will show them that you enjoy their company and other activities such as reading and sports, encouraging them to do the same.
Decide on limits that you feel are suitable for your child, lifestyle, and family. Implement these, and then stick to them. A fuss might be kicked up at first, but your new limits will soon become healthy habits. Examples include: giving your child the choice of one TV show a day; only allowing TV or screen time for a certain period of time at a set time every time; or making a rule that the TV isn’t switched on before a certain time or when the sun is shining. Also make a rule that no TV is allowed on during meals to encourage family bonding at mealtimes, and keep TV’s out of bedrooms. Give your child advanced warning that you are going to switch off the TV in 5 minutes or at the end of an episode, to avoid any melt-downs when the time comes to turn off.
If you have access to a smartphone or tablet, there are many free apps that you can download that are both fun and educational for your child. Engaging in the activity with your child ensures that you are completely aware of what they are viewing, giving them feedback, and bonding with them too. Check out this list of free educational apps for younger children (age 1 – 6)
The key here is to ensure your child enjoys enriching experiences both on and off screen. So, use your natural instinct and judgement as a parent as to what is healthy and ‘right’ for them.
Please share your experiences with technology and screen time for your child with us. We are all in the same boat and would love to hear your views.
How do you know if your child is getting too much ‘screen time’? Find out how to create the perfect balance in your home, here: