Screens … the curse of every modern parent. Almost every day my husband and I have a battle or heated discussion about one screen or another with my 5 and 6-year-old and it’s all our fault. We let them have too much TV and the iPad way too early and now it’s killing us.
A slippery slope
It started with a family holiday to Bali when my first two boys were both under 2. Quick! Get the iPad to entertain the eldest on the plane and when relaxing at the villa. Then a few months later he was in hospital with a very serious eye infection which required surgery, and because he was so little and unwell, we distracted him once more with movies on our laptop and iPad games. We were so relieved to have him home without having lost an eye that we once more gave in to excessive screen time. This was the beginning of the nightmare. We didn’t know it at the time, but we already had an addict on our hands and his brother wasn’t far behind.
Screens, screens, everywhere
You try and be a good parent and not let them watch too much TV or play the iPad non-stop, but it’s so hard in this busy, modern world – particularly when their exposure to screens is so great. You take kids to the hairdresser and there’s an iPad. You sit at the doctor’s and there’s another child next to you watching YouTube on their mum’s mobile. You want to take a family photo or play some music, what do you do? Whip out your phone. Even when we did ban games or put some screen limitations in place, my boys were still getting a screen fix every time they visited their cousins or friends and lots of other unexpected places as well.
Not just the iPad
We’ve banned all screens during the week except for Wednesday nights which may sound like a step in the right direction, but to make matters worse we now have the boys playing games on the Xbox, fighting over Netflix shows, logging on to the computer for school Mathletics, wanting to download new apps on the iPad and always trying to grab our phones to watch YouTube. To my horror, they don’t even classify watching TV as screen time; apparently it isn’t a screen unless it is a digital game.
Our screen repercussions
It doesn’t matter how little access they get, how many rules we lay down, what timers we put in place, what incentives or threats we give – they still go berserk when screen time is over or if they have to do something else instead – even if it’s a family beach outing or birthday party.
Even when they’re not using screens or are banned (during one of our technology detox periods), they talk about them ALL THE TIME. They literally live for the weekends because they think they might get to play Minecraft or Roblox if they play their cards right. It makes me so sad that they’d rather stare at a screen than do something as a family, even though they enjoy themselves when we do force an activity.
My kids also ignore hunger cues and needing the toilet when they use screens, become angry a lot, and my eldest very regularly can’t sleep for hours at night because he thinks about games and imagines himself playing them (even though he doesn’t get screens close to bedtime). It’s a HUGE problem and I hate what it’s doing to our family.
Addiction and other issues
I did some research a while ago and read that when kids play games like Minecraft, their brain patterns behave the same way that addicts do on heroin. This made total sense to me – my children are addicts. They’re prone to rage, obsessed with getting their ‘fix’ and will lose it if you take it away from them.
I spoke to a child psychologist once who told me that preschoolers should not have access to iPads or smartphones (even to use so-called educational games), and only TV in a very limited amount. Rage, sleep issues and losing quality family time aside; her main reasons for this were that there has been a huge increase in children having eyesight issues and undeveloped gross motor skills from too much time spent looking up close and using fine motor skills with tablets and phones.
Young kids aren’t supposed to be able to sit still and concentrate on something intricate; they should be playing in the sand or climbing trees, developing important gross motor skills and muscles to help them when the right time comes to hold a pen and sit still in class. The psychologist believed this is the reason many children now need occupational therapy to help them concentrate and behave better. Before screens existed, kids didn’t need it because they were already doing lots of physical activity at home with their parents, and using their hands and eyes more extensively than being fixated on a tiny screen.
Recent reports recommend that children under 18 months shouldn’t be allowed any screens (except Skype or Facetime), and those up to the age of 5 should only watch one hour a day WITH their parents. No mention of games here you’ll note. But while these recommendations are great, are they realistic? What about my second son who went to school early at 4 where they use iPads and computers in class?
Searching for a solution
The screen battle in our house is diabolical and my husband and I are unsure of how to fix it. All that we know is that we have to do something drastic before our 1-year-old (who already knows that phones and other screens are the source of power and wonderment), falls into the same trap. As a starting point we are both going to use screens less ourselves around the children and try some new strict limited screen times with an equal amount of ‘green’ time required (where they have to play outside, go to the park or beach, ride a bike, do sports, etc.). If that fails, we’re very seriously considering a screen ban on our house other than a very small amount of TV on weekends and computer for school activities with our supervision only. It will be hard but this drastic measure may just be required.
If I could turn back time I wouldn’t even bring an iPad into the house or download any Xbox games for them until they’d reached school age. It’s only now that my boys are 5 and 6 that they’re probably at the right age to be introduced to screens. So take my advice: if you have little kids be very careful about letting them have screens too much too soon – you will live to regret it.