How much screen time is too much, when it comes to games and phones?

The rate at which children develop these days is scary.  At the ripe age of two and a bit, my son can’t read or write, but can break into my iPhone (he recently learnt how to say ‘passcode’)! Like a demon, he instincitvely knows exactly where to find the good stuff.

These games were tucked away for emergency scenarios – planes, trains and nice restaurants. But he’s foiled my plan, and I’m left wondering how much time is too much when it comes to gaming?

Identifying the problem

The problem isn’t the iPhone, or indeed the games which most certainly help him identify colours and shapes and hone his fine motor skills. The issue is his reaction when I take it away. He goes into serious meltdown mode, like a d-i-v-a.

I’m a big fan of TV and technology, I was brought up on both, but never monitored. As a result, I think I had too much screen time, possibly making me the indoor person I am today. So, I believe it’s all about balance…

I also feel I should take some of the blame here (#MumGuilt). There are times when I needed some ‘me time’ to get on and do stuff  – you know all the fun things like washing, cleaning and cooking – and my device is the ultimate babysitter. Likewise, I can’t deny I have a habit of looking at my phone all the time too – what message does that send out to a child. I know I have to make some changes here myself.

So how much is too much screen time?

In 2014, a study by the University of Oxford found that children who played video games for an hour or less (a day) were happier and cruicially had fewer emotional and social problems than those who never played, or did so for three hours or more a day.

Ok, so an hour a day on games is probably a good measure, but how do you enforce it?

Faced with this scenario, we’ve been trying out lots of techniques lately. My favourite is courtesy of my husband – he has started giving Boo a countdown to how long he has left. I guess a professional might call this the ‘retreat’ method?

We usually give him 20 minutes of screen time at the most, as he’s so young still. Sure a two year old doesn’t know five minutes from five monkeys, but he understands his time is restricted and that soon he has to do something else. It seems to help.

It’s also handy to have another distraction to lure him with afterwards – helping Mummy with the dinner, going for a ride on his new trike or simply just doing some painting.

Actually, technology isn’t soooo bad

As with all things, it’s about moderation. I can see the link between behaviour and watching too much TV or playing with games. But if you’re careful about how much exposure your kid has, there may be benefits too.

In Digital Generations: Children, young people and the new media – (by David Buckingham and Rebekah Willet), they say: “Computer games, the internet and other new communications media are often seen to pose threats and dangers to young people; but they also provide new opportunities for creativity and self-determination.”

In fact, doing some research on the subject I found that games may equip children with valuable life skills. The impetus to persist, dealing with problem solving, strategic thinking and of course resiliance. When you think about how many of these issues come up in the workplace, it suddenly seems fortuitous to have some experience in it.

Sum it up Mum

Limiting your child’s intake to TV, games, technology, etc is a very personal and individual thing. You can find arguments for an against both, so it really depends on where you stand on the matter.

Personally, I think it’s important to expose my son to games, technology and the internet, because it’s undoubtedly going to be  an integral part of his life and career. But, the extent to how much exposure he has is the real question. I think an hour a day of gaming is a very good rule of thumb for an older child, but perhaps less for a toddler, and certainly in no more than 20 minute chunks at a time. But that’s just me!

What has your experience been, do you have any useful advice to share? Disagree with my comments – please let me know!

If you liked this post, you will probably enjoy why I’m saying no to toy guns, here >>>.