We're all for screens - after all, Expert Home Tips wouldn't exist without them - but what is considered too much 'screen time' and how do we limit it?
What is screen time?
Screen time is the name given to the amount of time spent in front of any type of screen. Although some screens use is more intense than others, time spent looking at any screen, be it a TV, mobile or iPad, counts towards your total screen time.
Average screen time in the UK
It seems there has been no end to the technological developments over recent years, and we're certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to screens. With laptops, smartphones and most notably for children, tablets, it's easy to understand how screens can take over.
Figures released by Childwise reveal that:
- Children aged 5-16 spend an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen.
How many children have a mobile phone?
Six and a half hours may seem like a lot, but it's easy to fill with so many different devices available:
- 69% of children use a mobile phone.
- Half of 8-15-year-olds now have their own tablet.
- 65% of 12-15-year-olds have three or more devices of their own.
What is 'too much' screen time?
Screens aren't all bad. They provide our kids with entertainment when we're rushed off our feet, allow them to socialise with friends, and where mobiles are concerned, can increase safety.
When children no longer seem able to function without electronic devices, however, there's obviously a problem.
Screens should be an addition to our children's lives, not their main cause for living.
Groupon predicted that during the 2017 Summer holidays, the average child would watch around 60 movies and play 150 hours of video games.
If there's one figure that reveals how reliant our kids have become on the virtual world, that's it.
Why should we limit screen time?
It's 2017, is there really anything wrong with Mario Kart ruling our children's lives? There has actually been little research to monitor just what overuse of screens is doing to our health, worrying, when we consider how much time is spent on them.
Despite this, both parents and professionals are concerned about their overuse.
For children, video games pose a particular problem. The over-stimulation of today's games can be extremely addicting.
This can cause substantial changes in a child's behaviour:
- 77% of parents say screen exposure influences their child’s mood.
- 62% regularly struggle to get their children to put down their device.
Tantrums are just the beginning of the problems linked to too much screen time. The screens themselves (notably the blue light emitted by the super-sharp display) can actually prevent melatonin, an important sleep hormone, from being released, leading to sleep impairments.
Studies also suggest that the overstimulation provided by online games could lead to problems in later life, particularly with focus, memory and impulsivity. Scientists fear we are breeding a generation of hyperactive infants.
We spoke to Erin Gallagher, MA, BACP reg. Psychotherapist to get her thoughts on the topic.
"The problem with films and games is that they rely on the imagination and work of someone else.
If kids are overly exposed to these, they will never get the chance to understand what they, personally, think and feel about things, because it's being fed to them.
I like to quote Lemmy from Motorhead occasionally and this has always stayed with me ‘Reading’s the only thing that allows you to use your imagination. When you watch films it’s someone else’s vision, isn’t it?'"
Consequences of screen time on children's health
Technology's effect on eye health
Too much screen time is also thought to heavily impact our eye health.
- The average rate of blinking (15 times per minute) decreases by half when we are staring at our smartphone, causing considerable eye strain.
- Myopia currently affects 30% of the world population, but this is expected to rise to a hefty 50% by 2050.
While this is not thought to be linked to screens directly, technology does mean outdoor activities are less appealing.
It's this compulsion to stay indoors on screens rather than venture outdoors that also forms the link between screen time and diabetes:
The link between screens & diabetes
Children exposed to screens for 3 or more hours a day are more likely to develop diabetes.
Cyberbullying is another issue
Perhaps most frighteningly, is the danger of online bullying, which is a mounting concern for parents.
In 2016, 34% of students reported being victims of cyberbullying in their lifetimes.
How do parents control screen time?
The majority of parents do make a conscious effort to control and limit screen.
- 96% of 5-15-year-olds' parents use either technical tools, rules, supervision or communication to do this (four in ten parents use all four tools.)
- 12-15-year-olds are now 8% less likely to have an internet computer in their room than in 2011.
Although there's no doubt such measure help, they are far from miracle cures for our children's technology addiction. Figures show that:
- 41% of parents of 12-15s admit finding it hard to control their child’s screen time, a figure that rises as children get older.
Parental advice for controlling screen time
Speaking to some of our fellow blogger friends, we got the low-down on what impact screens have in their households, as well as what they do, if anything, to limit screen time.
Mum of two, Mrs Helicopter Writes, was honest about her partner and her reliance on screens to keep their little boy entertained. "We were very lazy and let him take our phones or ipad to play on when he woke up at between 5-6am every day."
When Gus' behaviour got worst at the end of the last school term, they knew things had to change. They were reluctant to try it - afraid of the outcome - but after hearing a success story from a friend, they finally bit the bullet.
"His behaviour has DRASTICALLY improved - he's a different child. He sleeps better in the mornings, without the desperate rush to get downstairs and play on his games. He's kinder to his sister and is much more creative and enjoys his drawing or writing stories more than ever. If anyone was thinking of doing it, I would thoroughly recommend it."
Property Parent also decided to take steps to reduce screen time after a donated iPad seemed to be taking over their daughter's life, "Initially, it was ideal to occupy our daughter while dinner was being cooked or chores done, but as she grew up it became her first thought of the day and often her last."
Lee and his partner were particularly concerned about the effects so much screen time was having on their daughter's wellbeing, "Silent minutes would too often slip into hours, which cannot have been good for her."
The final straw came when their daughter would actually sneak out of bed during the night to locate the iPad, or cry out for it during the night.
When it came to cutting down, a gentler approach was taken, "We chose not to go 'cold turkey' as felt this may have caused even more problems. We've limited her 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. At first, she struggled, and so did we, but it quickly became routine. Now she prefers playing with her amass of Barbies and babies."
How to reduce your child's screen time - our top tips
1. Set an example
How much screen time are you getting?
- 60% of Mumsnetters admit they look at their screens fairly often during the day
- 59% of said they found themselves being distracted from what the kids were doing by something they'd seen on their screen.
Children copy everything. If you're constantly checking your phone, your child is going to want to do the same.
Don't just view your child's screen time as an issue, but look at the family's as a whole. Make changes where necessary to reduce the amount of reliance you have on screens, and your child will find it much easier and more reasonable when asked to do the same.
2. Play with your kids
Now you've finally turned the screens off, there will be much more time for play.
It's particularly important to spend lots of time entertaining your kids whilst you're trying to wean them off of screens, as they'll be out of the habit of doing it for themselves.
Board games, puzzles and card games are all fantastic, family-friendly options that will remind your kids fun can be had away from technology too.
3. Watch things together
Often, the problem lies not with the technology itself, but how we choose to use it.
Parents should work to make time spent watching screens more of a social activity, and this will automatically make children less inclined to want to use them alone.
Things like watching a series together, or family film nights are great ways of doing this, and help emphasise the tv as a communal activity.
4. Ban screens from the bedroom
One of the most effective ways to limit screen time is to ban screens from bedrooms.
Kids are less likely to want to play on their ipads in communal areas where company often serves as a distraction. It's also a great way of ensuring you can keep an eye on what your kids are up to, and monitor their screen usage.
5. Encourage a variety of activities
As children get older, they need more stimulating activities to entertain them.
If Hungry Hippos is no longer cutting it, why not try something new such as drawing sessions, dressing up or even cooking together?
6. Put passwords on all devices
A quick and easy way of limiting screen time is to put passwords on all devices.
This means permission must be granted before any technology is used, making it much easier to control.
7. Have screen free days
Screen-free days are a great way to remind the whole family that there is, indeed, life beyond technology.
If the whole family is involved, your children won't feel targeted. You'll all be able to pull together and find other ways to keep yourselves amused.
The best way to get away from those screens is to get everyone outdoors. Check out these garden activities for kids for more inspiration.
8. Swap one screen for another
If you're struggling to limit screen time, or your child has a particular penchant for mind-numbing video games, consider swapping their screen or changing the apps they have access to.
Educational games are considered much more beneficial than apps that promote violence.
Even better are reading apps or kindles, which fulfil your child's desire for screens in a much more educational way.
9. Change the wifi code
Another great way to take matters into your own hands when it comes to limiting scren time is to change the wifi password.
This can be done as often as necessary, with children having to request the code before they go online.
Some parents even use the wifi code as a reward for completing homework or chores.
10. Encourage hobbies
When your child first finds themselves without a screen, they'll be bored stiff.
Coincide limiting screen time with a new hobby. Getting into a team sport or regular activity will give them something other than their high score to be passionate about.
11. Try a screen time app for controlling screen time
Thanks the glorious App Store, you can now control screen time easier than ever.
Screen time apps will help you limit and reduce your kid's screen time, ensuring regular breaks are taking and they don't exceed their daily dosage.
12. Talk with them
If your kids are a little older, you can afford to get them involved in the decision process when it comes to reducing screen time.
Sit them down and try and decide upon set screen times and limits amongst yourselves before laying down any strict laws.
13. Erin Gallagher suggests simply sparking conversation
"Simply asking your child what they think about things whilst you’re doing the washing up or driving them to school instead of quieting them with an ipad will get their synapses firing.
It will encourage them to develop strong opinions and ideas whilst also making them feel important."
Do you have any personal screen time stories to share? We'd love to hear about them in the comments below!