Ah, the electronic Nanny. What would most of us do without them?
They are our go-to activity to secure us five minutes of peace. If you’re stuck in a queue or trying to finish the food shop, whip out your iPhone and a family of pigs will save the day. So many of us now turn to our smart devices in order to entertain our little people.
But how much is too much screen time and what effect is this going to have on them in the long run?
Back in September, I was asked to talk on BBC Radio Wales to give my thoughts on children and screentime, following Kirsty Allsopp revealing that she had smashed her kids iPads. Aside from the fact that I was so excited to be asked to talk on the radio, I was really pleased because I’ve got a lot of thoughts on the issue, both from a Nanny and a parent perspective. Since then, it seems as if this issue of children using screens too much is constantly making the news.
Screens Make Children Horrible
Ok, so perhaps that statement is a little extreme, but I’ve always noticed how much a child’s behaviour changes for the worse when they’ve spent a considerable amount of time glued to a screen. Having looked after children of varying ages, from three-year-olds to fourteen-year-olds, their behaviour after screentime and their reactions towards having their screens switched off are the same. Horrid.
They have been so fixated, so engrossed in the virtual world, that they then become extremely grumpy and moody. Reluctant to re-enter the real world. Then begins a battle to re-connect them with the real world. Which is usually the price you pay for having just had five minutes (or an hour…or more, let’s be honest) peace.
It’s A Convenience
There’s no denying that we mostly use screen time as a convenience. It’s the easy peasy, no mess activity that will guarantee you some free time. So dealing with the after-effects of screen time is sometimes a small price to pay. But there are ways to manage screentime more effectively and more safely to minimise those post-YouTube overdose meltdowns.
Ways To Manage Your Child’s Screen Time
There is no denying that today screens are a huge part of our lifestyle. Flash forward another twenty years and technology will have advanced even more. Making smart devices an even bigger part of our everyday lives and even more so for our children. Research and studies will continue to explore the ways that they are affecting our behaviour, growth and development, so, for the time being, we are simply embracing it. Learning how to manage it safely in our homes.
Here are just a few ways that I’ve managed screen time effectively as a Nanny and now in our home as parents.
Use Them For Your Convenience
Plan screentime to work around you. If you’ve got life admin to tackle, allocate that time to hand over the screens. You can also set boundaries this way by explaining that once you’ve achieved everything you need to do, then screen time will be over.
Use A Timer
Children like boundaries. As much as they might fight them occasionally, all children rely on boundaries to make them feel safe and secure. Using a countdown system or a timer to alert everyone as to when their allocated time is up is a good way to manage the screen time effectively.
Create a Screen Holding Station
This works particularly well for older children. When they return home from school all devices are popped into the holding station until all homework or chores are complete. It also works well for confiscated items and a central place to store the devices so that younger ones understand that it’s a treat to be able to use their screens.
It’s also a good idea to set a good example by placing all adult phones and devices into the holding station whilst you enjoy family meals or movies or games together. This will demonstrate that you’re all committed to being fully engaged in the room together.
Don’t Be A Hypocrite
If you’ve banned screentime for whatever reason, sitting there mindlessly scrolling on your phone isn’t setting a great example. It’s like saying no you can’t have chocolate but Mummy’s going to sit here and eat an entire bar whilst you watch. That’s not very cool in my book. So if you’re saying no to screens for whatever reason, encourage more positive behaviour by doing something else that doesn’t involve your screen too.
Time It Right
We’ve known for a long time now that using screens last thing at night isn’t good for our mental health. Make a conscious effort to switch off all screens and television at least an hour before bedtime. This also encourages children to engage with you better at the end of the day. I’ve definitely noticed that the girls settle so much better for bed if we’ve played music and read stories in that hour before bedtime rather than relying on the television or iPads.
On a similar note, managing screen time in the mornings will have a positive impact on how well everyone gets ready for the day ahead. We have a rule that once Peter Rabbit has finished on Ceebeebies, the television goes off. We can all concentrate on getting ready and out of the door in time for nursery.
Safe Screen Time
Knowing what the children are watching is crucial to managing screentime effectively, whatever their ages. YouTube Kids App is perfect for monitoring what the younger ones watch. Older ones are a bit trickier as you want to pick your battles wisely. Have a chat with them about what they are watching as a conversation rather than a lecture. Set boundaries as to what you feel could be unhealthy viewing. Make an effort to chat with them about certain issues that might arise in the things they are watching.
You can’t shield them forever and you can’t manage what they watch outside your home. So talk as much as possible and set safe, reasonable boundaries. Don’t be afraid to use the Holding Station Threat if they don’t co-operate. Which they won’t always, so I used the three strikes and it’s gone rule. If you catch them more than three times watching something they shouldn’t, the screen is plonked in the Holding Station for three days. Simples.
How do you manage screen time in your household?