How much screen time is too much for children?

The question of screen time for children is a big dilemma for parents today. Andrea Mara speaks with two parents using different approaches that work for them and their families

SCREEN time for kids — yes or no? It’s a big dilemma for many parents today — confused by conflicting reports about the impact of screen time, struggling under pester-power, and sometimes just desperate for five minutes’ peace and quiet.

A recent study by the Educational Research Centre found that pupils who play computer games “most days” have lower average reading and maths scores than pupils who do so “some days” or never. But ultimately, there was no causality says co-author of the report, Lauren Kavanagh. “While we can say from the findings that there are statistical associations between internet use and reading and maths achievement, and between playing computer games and reading and maths achievement, we can’t infer causal relationships. In other words, we can’t say, for example, that more time spent on the internet causes lower achievement. What we can say is that large amounts of technology use is related to lower reading and maths scores in a way that moderate technology use is not.”

So we spoke to two parents — Corrina Stone who doesn’t allow her children to use any devices at all, and Jill Holtz who gives her daughters relatively open access to screens, to find out how they make it work, and how it impacts other areas of life, such as school work, reading, and playing outdoors.

SWITCHING OFF

Corrina Stone has five children; twins Orla and Aoife (9), Séamus (8), Cillian (5), and Lorcan aged two. Corrina is a travel blogger (Stone Travel) so is tech savvy herself, but she’s not ready for her kids to go online.

“I have one rule for the children: no internet whatsoever. They have no computers and no tablets. I have a PC myself for travel writing but they don’t use it, and they’re not allowed on my phone to play games. If they have a homework project and need to research online, I sit with them and look it up for them — I bring in the younger kids to see how you do it, but I make sure it’s age-appropriate.

Back row left to right: Aoife Stone (9), Corrina Stone, Lorcan Stone (2) Front row left to right: Cillian Stone (5), Séamus Stone (8), Orla Stone (9)

“My kids get on well at school... To be honest I don’t see a big impact on exam results from lack of screen time — it’s more on street-smarts and social interaction. They’ve a great sense of adventure — their teachers have all said to me that they’ve noticed that. They speak more in class too and they’re constantly coming up with new ideas.

“When the kids in school are talking about a new game they’re all playing, my kids don’t have a clue what they’re talking about until one of them explains it to them, but in no way does it exclude them. They’ll discuss it and then move on to other topics of common interest. And yes, every now and then I get ‘But everyone in the class has a phone’ — I tell them they can get one when they’re 13 or 14 — when they’re responsible enough to manage it. The big thing I worry about is cyber-bullying — I want to protect them as much as I can.

“So on a typical afternoon, when we come in from school, they do their homework, but sometimes before we go home at all, we do what I call ‘Mystery Roads’. We go down a random road in the town and the children decide if we should go left or right. We have a chat, see how everyone is, and see where we end up! It sounds bit odd but it means we spend an hour in the car talking and winding down... it helps their sense of direction too.

“They’re good at concentrating on homework. Because they’re so close in age, I don’t have to be hands-on with the older three. They love reading too — especially Séamus, who races through his homework so he can get to his book. When we go away they always pack books for the flight, and I bring them to the library before we go home some afternoons too.

“They play outdoors a lot — we have a big garden, so they’ll play out the back mostly. Maybe because there are so many of them, they don’t often seek out other kids! So that’s my approach to screen time, I suppose I’m trying to raise them the way I was raised. But of course everyone is different. For me and mine, this is just what I do.”

OPEN USE POLICY

Jill Holtz is the co-founder of MyKidsTime.com. She has two daughters, one in sixth class and one in third year. Her approach, for a number of years, has been to allow them go online.

“We’ve always had an open use policy in our house but with some provisos. They have to tell us what they’re using, and if they want to sign up to new apps they have to ask — so there’s a trust thing in place. And in general they’re using the screen in the room we’re in as well. So it’s open, but with guidelines.

Jill Holtz has built up trust with her two daughters around asking permission.

“They’ve been using the internet for the last five years or so — my younger daughter likes to watch You Tube Vloggers and “how to” clips. My older daughter uses it for Snap Chat with her friends and social channels like We Heart It. They also use the internet to research projects for school, and my older daughter uses it for schoolwork.

“The trust set-up is working — for example, they come to me straight away and ask if it’s OK to sign up for a new app. I usually download it on my device too — that’s not to say I’m going to use it, but I need to log in and set up an account and have a look at it. I work in tech so I’m a bit more aware of what’s what, and I write about cyber safety for MyKidsTime.com so I would use it as an opportunity to ask questions, and see what it’s about. I find that because I’ve said it from the start, they do come to me.

“They both do well in school, and during homework time, my younger daughter isn’t allowed to have devices, but my older girl does her homework on a device.

We’ve always been book people — they both love reading and have done from a young age. They grew up with books, so that helps. And yes, they both still pick up books for fun, which is heartening because you’d worry they’d be distracted but they still go back to books every day.

“On a typical afternoon, when she finishes school, my sixth-class girl comes home, has a snack and a drink, does her homework, then goes online for maybe half an hour — it might be research for a project or looking at YouTube videos. She usually goes out then, on her bike or to walk the dog. My older girl has more homework so that takes up most of the afternoon.

“My oldest has a smartphone that she got last year, and my younger daughter has a hand-me-down ‘call me from the bus’ type phone. They both have tablets, but they generally don’t use them in bed – we don’t encourage it because I don’t think the blue light is good for them at bedtime. I’m not really strict on this with them but I find I don’t need to be. They just leave them downstairs and go off.

“And of course it’s about the maturity of the child too – a younger child will be less able to control themselves and be sensible. But basically, we said you have to ask permission, and they do. ”

 

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