Little ones love screens – televisions, tablets, phones. If the device can connect your child to his favourite game, app, youTube channel, television program or movie, then your child is probably going to want it.
But a warning just in from a child expert says using screens to distract or calm toddlers is causing long-term behavioural and social problems in our kids.
Electronic devices can provide parents with a few moments of peace and offer children a bit of quiet time, but child psychologist Justin Coulson says parents need to stop.
“Too many Australian children’s digital diet is the equivalent of fairy floss and fizzy drink,” he tells the Herald Sun
“We know they can help some kids learn their numbers and letters, but what’s the value in a two-year-old being able to read and write.”
Dr Coulson says parents need to get off their own phones and stop using screens as distractions for kids, because toddlers who spend too much time on screens have poorer social and emotional skills.
“And the more time they spend on screens the less parent-child interaction they get, which is the biggest issue. This impacts on long-term behavioural and cognitive development, coping ability, sleep and eyesight.”
How much screen time is too much?
Australia’s Physical Activity Recommendations suggest that children under the age of five do not spend more than one hour per day viewing screens. Children two and under should not have any screen time at all.
But, as most mums know, it can be hard to stick to these guidelines, especially on rainy days, holidays, sick days, when you need to shower or when your child wants nothing more than to watch Trolls over and over and over again. In fact, the latest figures show four and five-year-olds are spending around 2.2 hours a day on screens – more on weekends!
Tips to go screen-free
So what’s a mum to do? If your child is bordering on screen addiction, then these ten tips for screen-free parenting may help bring them back to the realm of reality.
1. Start a timer
It’s harder to argue with a device that doesn’t argue back which is why a timer works so well. Set the timer for 20 minutes, which provides your child with a decent amount of screen time and also gives you time to prepare dinner or put out a load of washing. Double win!
2. Get the iPad ‘serviced’
Our iPads go to the ‘doctor’ every few weeks when the kids are becoming too reliant on their screens (they have yet to figure out the iPad doctor happens to reside in the back of my closet).
Once the iPads are out of sight, then they quickly become out of mind too.
3. Give screen-free options
Check out these 50 screen-free activities for some ideas on what other activities your little one can do instead of zoning out in front of the television.
Write down a few different activities on pieces of paper and then stick the pieces in a hat so your child can choose what activity is next.
4. Set a screen-free day
If you can’t go all day without screens, then set a time when all devices are put down, such as from 5pm to 7pm every night. And stick to it, no matter how much they beg.
5. Bring out the board games
Nowadays, pretty much every board game comes in electronic form. But the real thing is so much more fun.
Kickstart screen-free parenting with a weekly or monthly family games night and revisit your favourites of the past – Snakes ‘n Ladders, Life, Sorry!, Uno, Battlefield, Twister, Yahtzee. All of these games (and so many more) still exist in the lonely board game aisle, just waiting for you to put down your phone and pick them up.
6. Do, rather than watch
Pay attention to what your little one is interested in watching (or playing) on the device. Then suggest that he uses his imagination to mimic this.
Rather than playing Minecraft on the iPad, have him built his own Minecraftesque world with Lego. Rather than watching Frozen on repeat, stage a puppet show that reenacts the movie.
7. Lead by example
Children learn by watching you. And if you’re constantly on your phone, checking emails, catching up on social media gossip and playing Words with Friends, then your little one is going to assume that this is the norm.
Don’t let it be the norm. Set limits for yourself, take frequent digital detoxes and focus on keeping both you and the kids entertained in other ways.
8. Don’t give in
An obsession with screen time can easily get out of control and turn your usually sweet child into a cranky screen-craving zombie. Like any habit, your child needs to stay strong to break it. And you do too.
Sure, it’s easier to just hand them your phone when they are screaming in the shop, to give them their iPad when you are too tired to play with them or to let them fall asleep watching a movie rather than listening to them complain that “they aren’t tired”. But we have to stay strong, Mums. We have to persevere with our screen time limits and not let the devices win.
9. Make bedrooms screen-free
No ifs, ands or buts. Screens stimulate little minds, and stimulation is not something your little one needs just before going to bed.
What shall the kids do instead? Read a book. Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd seems rather appropriate.
10. Introduce your kids to your childhood
Sure, the world may be a different place than when we grew up, but remember that screen-free parenting is in your blood! Introduce your kids to these activities that you used to love to do. And do these things with them, even if it means both you and the kids are coming home stained with grass, dirt and mud. It all comes out in the wash!