I was prompted to write this post after I took part in a Periscope conversation with a few others a couple of weeks ago. Daniel Edwards (@syded06) had been out for a family meal and had been amazed or maybe even disappointed at the amount of very young children who were given a phone/iPad in a restaurant as entertainment and so as not to bother the adults. I have to agree this is concerning and a little disturbing. It is the modern day equivalent of the victorian being seen and not heard.
As a parent how do you decide how much screen time is enough? I don’t really have the answer to this and nor would I wish through this blog post to tell you how to parent your children, however it it is something that we, as parents, have to give close consideration to.
This is how things work in our family. I am not saying it’s the way I’m just saying that it’s a way.
When my children were very young we avoided giving them a screen because quite frankly, there was so much else in the world for them to discover. We placed a lot of emphasis on reading, cutting and sticking and playing outside all of which has stood us in good stead. By the age of 4 they probably played on the iPad for a very small amount of time and certainly not daily. Now that they are older 7 and 9 screen time is much more of an issue and it’s something we very much have to control.
Playing on the iPad has only really come to the fore in our family in the last 18 months or so, mainly since they both discovered Minecraft. I have no problem with Minecraft as a game, it’s reasonably creative and as a result it’s not totally mind numbing however, I was concerned that it was becoming an obsession so something had to be done. Fortunately for me Richard Wells (@iPadWells) wrote this rather marvellous blog post on the topic of screen time and as we a result our family have followed his lead.
If it’s Sunny you play out
Chez Smith you are not allowed on your iPad before school – never, don’t even bother asking because the answer will always be no.
After school if it’s sunny you play out, afterall, it could rain tomorrow.
This is a really important rule for us. We live on the Isle of Man and there is nothing to do here and yet there is lots and lots to do. There are 2 tiny cinemas miles away from where we live. There are a couple of soft play areas but again, on the other side of the island. There are swimming pools in each of the major towns but that is it. However, what we do have are beaches right on our doorstep, streams to damn, trees to climb, dens to build, mates to play in the street with and added to all that we have freedom; freedom that most parents in the UK would kill for. I can let my children go an play out, with certain boundaries of course, and tell them to come home when the church bell strikes 7. I don’t worry about them, they don’t need a phone so I can constantly text them to ensure their safety. We are indeed blessed and because of the uniqueness of this kind of childhood we, as parents, make sure our children experience it as often as they can. So, if it’s sunny you play out.
When the children do play on their iPads I try to monitor what they are doing, without constantly looking over their shoulder. I prefer them to play in a family area rather than locked in their rooms (difficult at the moment because we are in the middle of major building works) also I adopt Richard Wells’ approach by directing them to other apps other than Minecraft or Minecraft videos on YouTube. Our daughter finds maths tricky so we ensure that she does a stint on Doodle Maths everyday. She is also very creative so I have added apps such as Explain Everything, Paper 53 and iMovie to her iPad so that she can get making. Both children have coding games on their iPads suitable for their age group. Most importantly I limit their time on the screen. I try for no more than an hour and yes, I do sometimes forget especially when it’s blowing a force 9 outside and the rain is bouncing down and peace has descended on our household, of course I do I’m only human! The point I am trying to rather inelegantly make is that as parents we shouldn’t deny our children screen time rather we should show them what they can do on their iPads other than monotonous platform games or videos.
Now, back to that restaurant that Dan was in and all those kids on devices. This I’m afraid, I cannot stand. Eating out as a family is, for us, special family time and I know that children can become agitated as they wait for the food to come but I don’t think screen time is the answer. Capitalise as a family on this time.
When we go out to a restaurant I take what are known in our family as ‘the handbag games’ these are games that are quick and easy to play and also small enough to fit in Mummy’s handbag. Our collection is currently Uno, Dobble, and Loco. None of them take more than 15 mins to play, they keep the children occupied whilst waiting and we can have a lot of fun together as a family. Moreover, they are teaching the children how to behave on a social occasion, how to play together, take turns and not be upset when you lose which you do. It makes the whole eating out experience so much nicer and family orientated. Giving a child a device in this kind of family situation divides the family rather than bringing it together, in my opinion.
Screen time’s not bad it just needs to be carefully monitored. Family time is important don’t t let it be dominated by devices and remember outside play is vital – so when the sun’s shining you play out!