During lockdown many of our children have retreated to their bedrooms and spent an extraordinary amount of time playing Minecraft, Roblox, making videos on Tik Tok or watching stuff on YouTube.
Is there a problem with this – how long should you allow your child to be on a screen?
Many of my coaching clients and people in my groups have come to me with this very question.
We have been in lockdown for at least 10 weeks. We may be fatigued of this situation and many of our children are bored, frustrated and are sick of suggestions from us well-meaning parents.
The default: Go and do what feels safe, fun and motivating = Screens
WHY YOUR CHILD LOVES BEING ON A SCREEN
Clearly your child enjoys being on a screen, whether it’s a phone, tablet, computer or laptop. A screen is safe. The software in the games are designed to be compelling and addictive. Imagine watching a Netflix series and the next episode is tantalisingly dangled before you just as you finish an episode. How tempting to go on watching. Online games are designed to be just as tempting, so that your child will be actively encouraged to keep playing.
Your child may be using their creative brains to make and edit movies or photos. They may be watching interesting programmes on YouTube. They may have found a platform to learn a new skill or develop an idea. They may be connecting with other people from across the world in a positive expression of learning together, respecting and celebrating differences.
ADHD brains hyperfocus, so your child may be going down a rabbit-hole in Google to research an idea.
Do you actually know what they are up to? Maybe engage with them and play, watch or create stuff together using the screen.
So don’t just assume that what they are doing is harmful or detrimental to their well-being. Feeling successful, relaxed and calm can do wonders for your child’s emotional health.
There are too many occasions in life when your child feels unsuccessful. They have made a wrong choice, made someone upset, been inappropriate or had adults call them out for rudeness.
But on a screen your child may be engaging with friends, developing coordination skills or may be incredibly skillful at the application. They are using problem-solving skills and demonstrating determination and perseverance.
They feel successful and are achieving.
Screens are 21st Century tools and can open up unimaginable worlds. We grew up in a different century where perhaps we weren’t as reliant on these micro-machines. Technology has evolved at a massively fast pace. We must embrace this new world and see it for what it is. Opportunities to engage, connect and create.
Your child is preparing themselves for 21st Century life and I am guessing that you want your child to have the skills, technical abilities and confidence to be ahead of the game.
You may be concerned that your child doesn’t have the freedoms we had as children. They do not play outside as we once did. But let them loose in the cyber world and you are exposing them to choice, discovery and unlimited resources for learning.
Your child should do other stuff than just screens.
Too much time spent on a screen is detrimental to physical health in terms of eye function, obesity, neck pains and headaches. It has also been shown that children can have delayed social skills and language development if on a screen for too long from a young age. So maybe delay giving a screen to a very young child unless absolutely necessary. There is a danger too that your child may be so immersed in the fantasy of a screen that they are not partaking in the real world.
Therefore it is favourable to your child’s emotional and physically well-being to strike a balance to experience other things.
Use a schedule of the day and come up with an agreed time of day your child will be on a screen. Have other stuff they can do. I appreciate after 10 weeks of lockdown you may have exhausted the list, but keep going.
Exercise is good for releasing those precious chemicals that an ADHD brain craves. So provide plenty of opportunities to move, move, move. We can now travel in a car – so have a day trip with a picnic. Go to local woods and investigate the trees and collect treasures.
Think of your child’s natural skills and interests and develop them. Go on Pinterest for ideas and inspiration of fun things to do.
Make things together. Build stuff, knock things down, repair bikes, plant a garden. Design a menu and cook. Decorate a bedroom, rearrange furniture, sort out stuff for charity.
Make the alternatives fun and compelling.
Have an agreed set of rules that everyone follows so that it seems fair and reasonable. Maybe no screens at the dinner table, recharge screens out of the bedroom, screens down during family time when watching a movie or playing a game. Your family, you all decide together.
Examine how much you use screens: Zoom, iplayer, Instagram, Tik Tok, online shopping and banking, research, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp. If you are glued to your screens, then you are role-modelling to your child that this is okay.
Agree that you will set parental controls and you will be checking their activity. This is to keep them safe and it is your responsibility as a parent. Teach them about online safety and never to disclose their personal details.
Be mindful that your child may be smarter than you when it comes to technology. They may be exposed to upsetting content or bullying. Make it okay to talk and share. Be supportive rather than judgemental and your child will be more likely to come to you if there is a problem.
COMING OFF A SCREEN
Add to the daily schedule when your child is going on a screen. Then your child knows what is happening, so they’ll be no surprises.
Think carefully when in the day they are allowed to go on the screen. Maybe after everything else, so there is no nagging.
Use visual prompts and reminders like daily planners or ‘Now + Next’ cards. Use timers, Alexa and alarms so your child hears audible messages that time is up. Give plenty of audible warnings.
Make the next thing they are doing compelling and motivating.
Screens must be shut off an hour before bed. The blue light interferes with the circadian sleep patterns and may cause your child sleep difficulties.
Have a great bedtime routine of calm activities, bath, cool bedroom, fairy lights, story and hugs.
You may want to set wifi to shut off at a certain time. This takes the pressure off everyone.
SO, THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION
HOW LONG SHOULD YOUR CHILD BE ON A SCREEN?
It may not surprise you, but my answer is…
It’s up to you and your family.
Weigh up the benefits, weigh up what your child’s needs, weigh up the alternatives.
It really is down to what suits your family. Do not compare yourself to anyone else. Your child is doing what they need to do. And so are you.