Like most mums, I am not immune to remarks from others about the upbringing of my children. Well-intended as they are, the comments can make you feel judged, often calling into question your parenting methods and making you re-evaluate your choices: ‘Should I feed them this?’ ‘Am I putting them to bed at the ‘right’ time?’ And perhaps one of the most common concerns of 21st century child-rearing is the ongoing debate of, ‘How much screen time should I allow?’
We regularly see reports about the negative impacts of screen time on children’s health, and it is a historic concern. Rewind back to the days of my early childhood with only four television channels to choose from and no remote control; I still remember being told to stay back from the television screen with the warning that I’d get, ‘square eyes’! But despite the bold warnings that screen time can cause everything from obesity to attention disorders, parents all over the western world still allow screen time on a daily basis, which leads us to ask: is screen time a harmful habit or an exhausted mother’s sanity saver?
As internet culture continues to grow and activities such as influencing and online gaming become recognised careers, our daily screen time is naturally increasing. So why is it that allowing our children screen time is seen as such a no-no? It is most likely due to the abundance of warnings; claims that screen time can lead to obesity, sleep disturbances, hinder academic progress and even result in bullying and violence.
However, if we delve a little deeper, it becomes clear that these much publicised alleged consequences are only half the story. In fact, the impact of screen time, even for lengthy periods, may not be as disastrous as we fear;
‘According to Oxford University research of 20,000 parents of children aged between 2 and 5 screen time limits may have nothing to do with a young child’s ability to thrive.’ (www.internetmatters.org )
A sigh of relief for the poor fatigued mothers out there who need five minutes to jump in the shower or throw on a load of washing.
And what about the famous dangers of blue light? Well, whilst it may cause a real threat to the brain’s sleep cycle, The Association of Optometrists states that, ‘There is currently no scientific evidence that blue light causes damage to the eyes.’ (www.aop.org.uk )
Better yet, my childhood fear was in vain, with regards to the link between screen time and short-sightedness, ‘…there is no clear evidence to suggest that screen time alone is the direct cause.’ ( www.aop.org.uk )
Good news for the eyes, but there is still no denying that we are living in a time where childhood obesity is at an all-time high and on average, children spend twice as long in front of screens than they do in the great outdoors. But surely if we as parents are aware enough to worry about screen time, then we should be able to keep tabs on just how much screen-time we allow?
‘In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function.’ (www.psychologytoday.com) A frightening fact, yet the keyword here is ‘excessive’. If children are offered alternative activities and encouraged to be more active, perhaps we wouldn’t be so quick to label screen time the villain.
According to NHS guidelines, lack of evidence has led the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to refrain from setting time limits at all, instead recommending that, ‘parents should approach the issue on a case by case basis, rather than trying to use a “one-size-fits-all” approach’.
I first realised that I should stop being quite so hard on myself about screen time when my then 2-year-old son surprised me by pointing to and naming eight different colours correctly; he had learned them from an educational video. My view shifted from, ‘Is screen time a bad thing?’ to ‘How can screen time be used to benefit my child’s development and education?’
And so, in a time where schools are following suit and introducing screens as educational tools, it seems to me that the question isn’t whether or not screen time is harmful, but how can we as parents monitor screen time to ensure it is beneficial to our children? Then perhaps we can rest assured that we are doing okay the next time the dishes need washed.
Katie Bruce is a wife and mum of 2 from Glasgow, Scotland. Katie is a teacher, musician and gymnastics coach who previously lived and worked in the Cayman Islands. She loves to crochet, spend time with family and consume more than her fair share of chocolate. Connect with her on Twitter here.