‘How can I retrieve my child from the far away land of ‘screen time’ and ‘how much screen time is safe for my child’ are the frequently heard cries of parents today.  Research has shown that parental concern about children’s media use across TV, online, mobile phones and gaming has increased since 2016.  Parental concern, it would seem, is not unfounded and the statistics do not always make for comfortable reading.  Research has shown that eighty percent of under 2’s have already experienced considerable exposure to screen time and Ofcom’s most recent report (November 2017) shows that:

  • 53% of 3-4 year olds go online for nearly 8 hours a week.
  • 79% of 5-7 year olds go online for around 9 hours a week.
  • 94% of 8-11 year olds go online for nearly 13.5 hours a week.
  • 99% of 12–15 year olds go online for nearly 21 hours a week.
  • Almost a quarter of 8 – 11 year olds and three-quarters of 12–15 year olds have a social media profile.
  • Childrens TV viewing time has increased and children site watching TV on mobile devices as a strategy to avoid parents censoring viewing or a way to spend time when they are alone.
  • 12% of parents of 3-4year olds and 41% of parents of 12-15 year olds say that they find it hard to manage their children’s screen time.

These statistics are particularly concerning given the government’s recent failure to implement half of the NSPCC’s recommendations to make young people safer on line.  This failure comes 10 years after these recommendations were first made and brought to the public’s attention by Dr Tanya Byron (NSPCC Trustee and Clinical Psychologist) in February 2018. Some authors describe an ‘information age’ ushered in by the ‘digital revolution’ as being bigger than the industrial revolution.  Unlike the industrial revolution, the ‘information age’ is spreading like lightning speed leaving few areas in the world untouched.  It would be easy to say that parents have become complacent about screen time and blind to the potential damage that the ‘digital revolution’ may be presenting to our children.  However, would it be more accurate to say that as parents we have unwittingly been seduced by the ‘Information Age’ in an attempt to give our children what we think they need?  As becoming a parent is increasingly a ‘conscious choice’ in today’s society we strive hard to give our children what we believe they ‘need’. Research shows that increasing digital peer connection and screen time is leading to our children ‘tuning out’ in the home environment prompted by an information overload.  Children are being exposed to information that they simply are not ‘ready’ to digest.  Obesity rates are on the increase and this is not helped by children’s increased screen time.  These may be the most common concerns among parents.  However, is the more damaging and least well considered aspect of our children’s screen use the subsequent reduction of time spent in play, with parents or carers, grandparents and wider immediate social circle?  Some argue that the increasing time that our children spend congregating in cyber space is leading to the erosion of our cultures across the world. The research tells us unequivocally that children need time to play, their parents or carers time, parental/carer interaction, family rituals and traditions that integrate us into our own given culture.  These are what we know to be the building blocks for healthy brain development, the ability to form healthy relationships and the resilience to sustain the losses and disappointments that are inevitable in life. We regularly berate ourselves for our shortcomings as parents.  Rather than allowing this to be the case can we become more mindful about the time we spend with our children?  Maybe the question that we, as parents, could ask ourselves is not how much screen time is safe but how can I increase face to face time with my children and simply enjoy each other’s company? 5 Ways to help children and young people stay safe online

  1. Prioritise Safety Teach children not to give out personal information like their name, address, telephone number or the name of their school.
  1. Set Parental Controls Agree a list of websites that you child is allowed to visit and remember to check the minimum age limit on social media services.
  1. Discuss their activity Take an interest in their online world.  Talk to them about their favourite websites, videos and their online friends.
  1. Set Boundaries Establish time limits for activities such as using the internet and games consoles.  Make sure to set aside time for unplugged play and family activity.
  1. Be Open Let them know that they can tell you about anything that happens on the internet and you will listen without judgement.

Dr Elise Kearney, mother of four and Chartered Consultant Child and Family Psychologist trained as a Clinical Psychologist in Glasgow.  She has over 15 years of experience working with children and families in the NHS and privately.  Dr Kearney offers 1:1 assessment and treatment sessions for a variety of difficulties including; difficulties stemming from family separation, bedtime or sleep problems, feeding difficulties or “fussy eating”, dealing with anger or “temper tantrums” and separation anxiety, difficulties around potty training, sibling rivalry or difficulties with sharing, starting nursery/school and transition to high school or College/University, anxiety, panic, phobias, low self-esteem, attachment difficulties, low mood and depression, behavioural problems, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bereavement (this list is not exclusive). She runs a clinic at The Therapies Centre, The Fold, Bransford.  Dr Kearney can be contacted on elisekearney@btinternet.com 07713755224 or find out more about the service she offers at www.thefold.org.uk/natural-therapy-centre/consultant-child-family-psychology/

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