How much screen time a day for a child is OK?

As a parent of Angelique, aged 4 and William, aged 2, I’m constantly made aware by many influencers about their use of technology and amount of “screen time” in their daily lives. The pressure from the media, friends & family and the glances you receive in a public space when you hand your iPhone over so you can have a quiet coffee, all contribute to the mother-guilt that “TV and devices are not babysitters”.

For example, this blog from popular KidSpot recommends:

  • Children under 2 years – very little time watching TV or using a computer
  • Preschoolers – up to an hour a day of programs made for preschool children with little or no computer time.
  • Children 5 to 8 years – an hour of screen time (in whatever guise you choose) a day is plenty.
  • Children over 8 years -an hour and a half-hour to two hours a day.

This blog was quite basic, and there was no consideration at all for different development levels within children. More complex and indepth blogs based on research can provide a better balance.

These thoughts, coupled with Corningware’s A Day Made of Glass, quietly freaked me out at the number of changes my brain would have to adapt to in my lifetime – and not just me, but how different life was going to be for my children. My children spend more than 2 hours a day with screens (not every day). Does that make me all bad?

You see, Angelique has a global development delay thanks to a really rare syndrome, coupled with severe dyspraxia, means she struggles to talk. The use of technology in our household is actually imperative to the development of my child. In having to learn from her difficulties, I’ve also experienced first hand how technology is changing the lives of children with disabilities. For instance, I met a family whose child, aged four, can’t hold up her own head. She has little control of her own body, so being able to activate a cute plush toy by pushing a specific button is actually a big ask. To modify that toy costs about $300 for a six month modification rental – that’s right, the family don’t even get to keep the toy. So I introduced the family to Makey Makey, an activation device that can modify pretty much anything, turning ordinary objects into a keyboard, for a family-friendly $50, thanks to Kickstarter.

I’m at the cross-roads of starting-school-decision-making. Start now, with a development delay in a special needs school, or give her a chance to try and catch up and attempt main stream school in 18 months? Our speech therapist said the best thing we could teach Angelique at the moment is how to use a computer mouse, as she’ll be using this from day 1 at school, even in a special needs school. Considering our children have dedicated Google class time in Kindergarten as part of the curriculum, it’s not a bad suggestion – which effectively makes the KidSpot blog redundant to me.

I watch in amazement as Angelique navigates both my iPhone and iPad. She knew how to swipe my iPhone after watching me do it once only, she can locate all child-friendly apps and programs before I can and she actively learns through the educational apps on a daily basis. Mr Potatohead is brilliant, with various premium costumes to buy, there’s a great selection based on my daughter’s current interests, teaching body parts and costume accessories, like a parrot for Pirate Potatohead’s shoulder. Or Jungle Picnic, teaching animals, colour, shape and size sorting, preferences, item matching, turn taking and memorisation; or the famous Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy book which comes complete with Makaton Sign Language built into the story telling. Oh and don’t forget the endless painting, colouring, drawing, number tracing and speak & repeat type apps.

It makes me question the need to be concerned about the quality of our children’s handwriting if they in fact will barely ever need to write. Is spelling as important when we have auto-correct? I always used to wonder how one effectively uses a dictionary if you don’t know how to spell a word in the first place. I have a limited edition Encyclopedia Britannica at home so I can show my children what the world was like before .com came about. Does that mean I should also start holding onto a chalkboard, an exercise book, a roll of contact and some Kellogg’s branded name stickers?

Beyond infants, we are seeing our youth spend increasing time on multi-player games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Halo. Yes, some of these games include violence, but is that not what our physical world also has? These players are strategic, working in teams to achieve set goals and objectives, they need skill, patience, precision and concentration. They understand losing and winning and they understand the consequences of those actions. There’s now even evidence that screen time (ie gaming) can improve responses, for example surgeons who play video games just three hours each week are 27% quicker and make 37% fewer errors than surgeons who do not.

So is all this talk about reducing screen time for children for the sake of our children’s development or actually for the older generations to hold onto how it used to be? At the moment, all screen time conversations are treating the quality as equal. Time -v- function needs to be addressed. Interactive screen time with an educational focus and instructional guidance with an adult is far more worthwhile & informative for development than watching cat videos on YouTube.

As with all things in moderation, there’s definitely a role for technology in the development of children and the sooner we can embrace this, the better for our youth. Not sure how I get that across to parents giving me “the stare”.


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