Does the balance feel right for you and your child? Devices can offer many things; entertainment, social interaction, they can be sources of information, organisational tools and ways to access new experiences. However, they are not always good for us…
5 Ways to know if your child’s screen use is healthy:
1. Are they able to find ways to entertain themselves without screens for extended periods of time?
If your child relies on their device to fill moments when they feel bored this could be a problem. Although it can be uncomfortable, boredom is actually a useful state. When we are bored our brains are searching for novelty. It’s a good idea to empathise with your child if they are having any kind of uncomfortable feeling in order to help them feel safe in their relationship with you, however if you can leave them with the discomfort you will often find that exciting new ideas start to emerge, cardboard forts are built, forgotten books are rediscovered, new hobbies found.
2. Are devices used as a way to deal with difficult feelings?
If your child is feeling sad it can be tempting to make those difficult feelings to go away. Screens can be away of distracting ourselves and our children from our emotions or giving us a hit of dopamine – the feel good chemical released by our brains. This is a way in which they can become addictive, it is better for our long term health to find ways to handle our feelings without turning to a device. This could look like helping your child to name and describe their feelings while holding a loving presence.
3. What kind of screen use are they having?
It is our duty as parents to ensure our child is safe when online, having parental blocks is a good idea. Jonathan Haidt’s research shows a clear link between social media use and poor mental health including self harm and body dysmorphia. His recommendation is for young people under 18 not to be exposed to social media. I recommend the documentary “The Social Dilemma” for more information about how the algorithms behind social media operate.
4. Is your child getting enough fresh air and exercise?
The NHS recommend at least an hour of moderate or vigorous activity per day and studies have shown that at least two hours in nature per week are needed for optimal health. All of our bodies are different, you and your child may need more than this in order to thrive, others may have physical limitations which make vigorous exercise difficult and need a gentler approach.
5. The opportunity to learn in variety of contexts.
Is your child having a rich variety of experiences? Skills gained from playing computer games are not necessarily transferable to the world outside. It is important for your child to develop skills and capacities needed to live a fulfilled life and build the resilience to cope with a variety of situations.
Make sure your devices are serving you and not the other way round!
How we incorporate screens into our family culture depends on your child’s developmental stage.
0 – 2 years
Ideally I would recommend children of this age not being given devices, it is not something they need and the educational benefits of kids tv are overstated. An exception to this might be if offering your child a device to give yourself a much needed break, especially if it prevents you from loosing your temper. Parenting can be a challenge! If you need your small child to be in front of a screen for more than one hour per day consider whether you need better support structures to help you to be on top form as a parent.
2 to 7 years
Choose content carefully, the images seen by young children can have a strong impact on them. Calm, slow paced content is better. With younger children it is appropriate to set limits and stick to them. It is important to maintain our boundaries with our children in order to minimise conflict. If your child is not used to you sticking to your boundaries around screen use it is a good idea to be prepared to soothe them when the device goes away. Find ways to help them prepare for the transition, for example by making eye contact and asking them about what they are doing then letting them know it will soon be time to switch off.
7 years plus
You can begin, from this age, to create more collaborative solutions around screen use. Talk to them about the needs of their developing minds and bodies for nature, exercise, relationships, healthy food and variety. Dialogue with them about the way that screens can at times feel compelling or help us to escape from feelings. You could talk about the things you would like to do either separately or together during the week and how screen time can fit in with this. Giving children the opportunity to have these kinds of conversations with you is great for your relationship and a wonderful way for them to learn problem solving and communication skills.