OPINION: Kids and screens - no one has a right to judge
KIDS and screens. It's a tricky and touchy subject.
Before my son was born I once questioned a friend over how much time her children spent watching TV. Whenever I was there it was on with her two under-four kids plonked in front of it. She got defensive (rightfully) and said it gave her time to get stuff done. But I was horrified. I even declared to my husband that our child wouldn't be allowed to watch any TV.
Then my son was born.
For the first couple of years he didn't watch TV but fast-forward to three and before I knew it he was asking to "watch" morning, noon and night.
And then my daughter was born and I found myself complying.
Because it gave me time to get stuff done.
The Australian Government's Department of Health recommends children under two should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media, this includes DVDs, computer and other electronic games.
For children two to five years of age, they recommend sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic media should be limited to less than one hour per day.
Less than one hour a day.
It sounds like a lot but when you're using the TV to buy you time to tidy, hang out washing, cook meals, bathe a baby, feed a baby, clean up after meals…it quickly adds up.
I think at one stage my son was watching at least three hours a day. And I was mortified.
I thought back to questioning my friend and how judgemental I had been. At that stage I had no idea. We're all different, everyone's situation is different, we can't judge. But people do.
So I never confessed how much time my son was spending in front of the TV. Instead I made the decision to change it.
Our circumstances changed, we moved house and our big, expensive flat screen TV got packed away.
We're now living with my husband's parents until the end of the year. But a week after we arrived when the initial excitement of living in a new place with his grandparents wore off, my son started asking to watch again.
And I started saying no, and sending him outside.
I mean I'm lucky. Living with my in-laws means more people to help with the kids (yes, I said I'm very lucky!) and means I'm not relying on the TV for a distraction.
At first my son kept asking. Now he just goes outside.
I haven't completely denied him TV. He's allowed up to an hour a day and usually he uses a little of this time after lunch (before a snooze) and the rest before dinner. It's his chill out time. And I have noticed he's started turning it off after 10 minutes or so saying he's had enough.
But when we move into our next place I'm still loathed to get out that flat screen. As a teenager we went five years without a TV and I have fond memories of reading tons of books, playing board games with my brother and writing.
But we will see. Fifteen years on things are much different today. To go completely screen free might be denying my son the technology he needs to keep up with everyone else in this digital age.
But what I do know is from now on I will stick with as little use as possible. And make sure what he is watching is quality content.
I recently read this article on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated statement about kids and screens that said it's not the amount of time kids spend watching that's important but what they watch, where they watch and how they watch that is.
These suggestions included:
- Recommended amounts of screen time are unrealistic, instead parents should set limits at every age and consider the displacement effect when kids use screens.
- What children do with screens, is more important than how much time they spend with screens. The content kids watch or interact with on screens is critical, parents need to source quality media resources for their children.
- Media and devices are ubiquitous parts of kid's lives these days. Technology isn't toxic, it just needs to be managed.
- When children use screens is critical. Evidence shows use of screens in the 90 minutes before sleep can effect melatonin production and delay sleep. Inadequate sleep effects children's development. Parents need to create tech free time zones.
- Children need tech free zones such as bedrooms and mealtimes.
There's more tips for parents on children and media here.
How much screen time do your kids get?
Alexia Purcell is APN Australian Regional Media's social media editor.