Childwise’s 2015 Monitor Report on children’s media use has revealed a surge in the number of tablet computers being used by young children, and suggests that parents use the devices as rewards and equally withhold them as punishment.
We’ve all been there, right? Well, I know I have. Even only if it’s been just a couple of times, (as my iPad is nearly always without charge), using the line, “if you sit quietly at the dentist’s / on the plane / in the waiting room, you can watch Peppa Pig” has proved useful in the past.
The problem is that you’re placing the iPad on a pedestal, making the child want it more. According to Dr. Katerina Kantartzis, Lecturer in Psychology at Birmingham City University,
Using a tablet as a reward or threat will make it more desirable to children, which is loosely based on the principle of scarcity—the more scarce something is, the more we want it.
And so we see children and teenagers developing an unhealthy habit, spending hours hunched over the tablet, which even if it’s for an educational purpose surely can’t beat being outside, playing sport, and simply moving around.
So, how much is too much when it comes to screen time for kids? At the moment there is no clear guideline from the UK government, but since 2013 the US Department of Health has recommended that under-twos don’t have any screen time at all (yikes), and over that age, no more than two hours a day. Which to me—now that my daughter is nearly two and a half—seems like a lot.
The idea that television and gaming might interfere with a child’s normal cognitive development was what makes me turn my baby girl’s little head away from any screens we pass, but when we she was nearing two, an iPhone loaded with episodes of Charlie and Lola did get us through two delayed flights, a late-running restaurant meal, and a calamitous car journey during our summer holiday in Italy. Since then I’ve discovered a few educational apps, and although we use them only sporadically, they’ve definitely helped my daughter learn her alphabet and improve her dexterity.
If used—again, sporadically—for educational purposes and to soothe a troubled, over-tired mind in really extreme circumstances, I think I’ll continue to let her have a little screen time going forward. Perhaps not two hours a day—kicking up leaves, chasing birds, swimming, crafting, reading, role play, and puzzles will all continue to come first. But a Disney movie at the weekend? That’s a given.
What about you? How much screen time is enough (or too much?) for your own child?
image: Getty / Thanasis Zovoilis
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