Mum's the Word: Navigating minefield of child’s screen time takes time and effort

Deciding what kinds of technology and how much to expose your kids to is an absolute minefield. We have friends who have a zero policy on iPads and tablets to those who are considering allowing their under 10s access to their own phone.

We have gone through different periods of allowing my daughter Joan limited time on her tablet to months of no screen time at all because her tablet broke and we took it as a good opportunity not to replace it. But for her birthday this year we decided to replace her tablet and set it up with secure child settings and limit her time on it across the week.

Like most parents, we started off well and we were pretty strict, but as the weeks went by the number of days she could be on it just got extended because I had to write mails, answer calls or whatever. Then 20 minutes on it extended to 40 without me noticing because I was making dinner.

We would always know she has spent way too much time on it if she started to speak in a North American accent or talked about hacks all the time!

A person who is the authority on talking about screen time and kids is Ollwyn Moran, founder of CogniKids, who I have had on my Weekend Breakfast shows in the past. Honestly, she terrified me with the amount of information we now have on the cognitive effects of too much screen time has on developing minds of kids.

She didn’t mean to scare me, she was just imparting information she is well aware of, having committed to doing a PHD on this topic and running Cognikids. One evening, only a few weeks ago, Joan was on her tablet when my conversation with Ollwyn popped into my mind and I got a fright again. I practically ripped the tablet out of her hands!

But that isn’t the solution either. So my husband and I talked about how we really need to set strict time limits on screen time again and be careful to monitor them, especially heading into the summer holidays.

Screen time is just the go-to for most children now and it would probably be unimaginable to them to picture a childhood without iPads, tablets or anything but a TV.

For many kids it must seem utterly terrifying to think of filling a day playing outside or employing their imagination for the entire day. The only time Joan really gets a glimpse of this life, the life I had as a kid, is when we visit our childhood cottage in Canada and there is no…. wifi! Plus the TV barely works. So she spends a whole week without a tablet or any TV, outside on the grass playing games or in the lake swimming. And guess what — she survives and more than that, thrives.

So as summer has officially kicked off and I am lining up activities for us to do and places to visit so as to avoid as much screen time as possible. It takes effort I know, and again, not all parents are as free as I am during the week.

But I really want Joan to learn to occupy herself without relying on her tablet. To not crave it as much as she does, and to be drawn to other activities that help her explore all the abilities she has.

To use her imagination and at worse sometimes even be bored so she can push herself to come up with something to do — a skill we all had to develop as kids in the pre-tablet era. We will do our best and yes, of course the tablet will come out from time to time — just as long as it isn’t her first love this summer!

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