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Children and screen time: How much?

Devices: are they an essential educational asset and the “way of the future”, a modern monstrosity that sucks children into a vortex, or a handy tool for eking out a bit more adult conversation over a restaurant table? We asked some Mums and Dads about their views on kids and screen time.

New Guidelines

In April 2019, the World Health Organisation released its own updated recommendations about kids and the amount of screen time they get. They suggested zero “sedentary screen time” for babies and toddlers until the age of two – including watching TV or playing games on devices – and a one-hour limit for ages two to five years. There were disagreements about the guidelines, however, with some finding them too simple or unrealistic, others suggesting they didn’t go far enough.

Screen time and kids

What’s your approach towards your children and screen time?

Shimaali

“My approach is “the less the better”, but one of the hardest challenges I’ve found after our move was that everyone is on a device in this part of the world. No one warned me about that. My then 12-year-old cheekily told me, “Hey mom, remember that whole ‘when you are in Rome you must do as the Romans’ thing you like to tell us? If you want us to be more like the kids here, you need to let us be on devices.” I was not amused.

I’m still trying to find a balance, but it’s incredibly hard. With my teenager, I realised that part of the new norm of social life here is gaming online with friends. When I was growing up, hanging with my friends meant going to the park or a mall. In today’s teen world, it means getting on your computer and communicating while gaming. I do try and have a rule that electronic time should not be more than an hour during the week, and homework has to be completed before my 13-year-old goes online.

“With the nine-year-old, her Kindle is only for reading and we do give her an old phone during the weekends so she can send emails to her friends and family in the US, but she has to return it to us and we do monitor the usage.”

Gail

“It drives me mad, but we live in a world where electronics are taking over. We do limit the electronic times and introduce lots of outdoor activities. We have a charging station at home, which is outside the bedrooms, so no electronics are allowed in rooms after a certain time. That time differs for the different ages, but we have to watch that they don’t sneak them back into their room!”

Rebecca

“We’re pretty relaxed about it. We allow TV at home, but only about an hour a day in total. Sometimes it’s helpful when me or my helper needs to run around the house doing other things, and I’m not against it. The kids have learned it’s a “sometimes” thing, and we give Zoe 10- and 5-minute warnings before we turn it off, so there are no meltdowns. We don’t have individual devices like iPads for them yet, but we will likely get them before our trip home to NZ for Christmas. We’ll need to enforce some rules around usage and keep them somewhere they can’t access them all the time. Any tips welcome!”

Typhaine

“I avoid screens as much as possible. The kids get a few hours during the weekend and unlimited screen time when we are on flights… hence their love of travelling!”

Joanna

“We try to avoid screen time as much as possible, we encourage reading books, singing songs, drawing and colouring or playing with toys. We do allow television during “quiet time” on the weekends for our three-year-olds as they outgrew their naps and we also have some apps on the iPad for long plane journeys.”

Typhaine

“I never imagined before I had children that I would let them watch as much TV as they do. That being said, we are pretty good. My daughter had already dropped her naps by the time her baby brother arrived, so a little screen time was her downtime in the middle of the day. She loves TV and we try and focus on the best programs when we can, particularly ones that encourage learning or creativity. Her TV time has previously been while her brother napped, but now that he is older he is allowed to join in and watch a little age-appropriate TV, too. As for iPads, they are pretty much only for when we are travelling (essential!) and we don’t take them out of the house with us. We don’t do any devices (games or TV on the phone) while we are out and about or dining.”

Sarah

“This is a very challenging topic and we find it harder to manage the older they get. My older son has a phone that he gives to us at 9pm along with his laptop. With the younger two, they are allowed to use their tablets on Fridays after school and for an hour on Saturday and Sunday, provided all of their homework and jobs have been done.”

Trivia Time

The first use of the term “screen time” dates as far back as 1921, but it referred to the amount of a time an actor appeared in a performance (“Charlie Chaplin has 23 minutes of screen time in the film”). The device-related meaning of the term is much newer, of course. In fact, it was only added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in April 2019 (along with “inspo”, “fatberg” and “escape room”)

See more in our Kids section

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Expat guide to international schools