When I read the title of this piece back to myself, even I think, “Oh dear, that seems like a lot!” The thing is, my husband and I are usually pretty strict with our daughter’s screen time, previously allowing just 20 minutes on each weekday, and a few hours on the weekend.
We aren’t in the business of judging other parents’ decisions, but for us, we noticed early on that there was a connection between the amount of screen time our daughter had and how difficult her behavior could be for us to manage. So in our family, screen time became limited, and after a short while we even became TV-free, although we did still use laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
According to a 2017 report by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, “Screen time and kids: what’s happening in our homes”, the average Australian primary school student spends 31.5 hours every week using screens, which equates to 4.5 hours each day. This does include “educational use” … but if our daughter’s screen use is anything to go by, it’s not really for any educational benefit that children like to use screens.
In our daughter’s case, her main reasons for using screens are to:
- Stay connected with friends and family
- Watch TV programs and movies
- Play games, and
- Listen to music.
The thing is, her reasons aren’t really much different to what we like to use screens for — it’s just that as adults we have a little more self-control, and also know more about the negative impact of screen use in terms of physical and mental health. Our daughter is only 9 years old though, and we can’t expect her to make decisions and behave like an adult, even if that would make our lives easier!
So, given what we know about screens, why would we suddenly allow our daughter so much access to them?
- It’s school holidays, and like many families we tend to relax the rules a little, with later bed times, more junk food, and more screen time
- Although our daughter isn’t an adult, we figured it probably was time for her to learn more about screens, and why we usually place limits on their use at home, and
- We figured this could be a great opportunity to include our daughter in some age-appropriate decision-making about something that affects her, and maybe if she was part of the decision-making, she might be more willing to ‘stick to the rules’.
The funny thing is, we’re now on day 3 of the new screen-time regime, and it’s been wonderfully successful so far. There really is value in actively including children in decision-making when possible and appropriate, which perhaps shouldn’t be considered so amazing, given that they are people in their own right, just a little smaller!
So how did we arrive at 3.5 hours a day? Basically, we just sat down with our daughter and let her know that we were willing to renegotiate the screen-time rules for the school holidays, and we worked it out together. Truly, it wasn’t a lot more complicated than that.
We started by acknowledging how much she enjoys using screens, and we reminisced about our own childhoods, and the many hours spent watching television, talking on the phone, and often doing both at the same time – You see, our daughter isn’t really much different from us at the same age, she just has more choice, and the screens have become smaller and handheld.
Then, we let our daughter know why we get so concerned about screen use in our family, that is, how it can affect our brains, emotions, behaviour, and relationships, if we’re not careful.
After ‘setting the scene’, we then encouraged our daughter to think about the different devices we have, what she liked to do with each device, and what she thought would be appropriate in terms of time and usage. The funny thing is, instead of complaining or stating that this activity was boring or dumb, our daughter took it really seriously, and spent a good 30 minutes writing notes, drawing charts, and then presenting her ‘good copy’ for consideration.
To be fair, it did need a little re-working, but in the end we had an agreement that she is really proud of – we know this, because she excitedly stuck it on the fridge in ‘prime position’ and shows it to her friends when they visit!
Here is the agreement:
- 1 hour of iPod Touch
- 1 hour of iPad
- 1.5 hours of laptop
- Unlimited iPod Mini (audio music on this device only)
- One screen at a time, and
- All screen time between 10am – 7pm only.
Pretty good, hey?
So, if you’re struggling to place or maintain screen-time limits in your family, perhaps consider the value in making an agreement together. You might even find yourself happily agreeing to many more hours than you ever thought possible! And yes, in case you’re wondering, in a couple of weeks’ time when school is back, we’ll probably need to revisit this agreement. In the meantime, we’re thoroughly enjoying our daughter’s new found self-control and determination, and wonder what else we might be able to ‘re-negotiate’ …