We are starting to have more open conversations about the mindful use of technology, digital detoxing and minimising screen time, although I believe we have a long way to go and we're just starting to recognise the tip of the iceberg. What we are much more reluctant to talk about is digital mindfulness for our mini humans. And I'm 110% guilty. Because by gosh, it's a grey area and un-navigated minefield. I mean where do we start?! How much screen time is too much screen time? What devices are appropriate at what ages? How do we navigate behavioural challenges resulting from screen time? What are the long-term health implications (both physical + psychological), if any? What about cyber-safety? And the legacy we're creating for our kids? What we post about them online will be online FOREVER? Exactly how will they feel about having their photos, memories and whole life shared with the entire world without their input? It's no bloody wonder we're not talking about it, I mean where do we even start?
Advice from the Department of Health in Australia suggests the following impact of screen time for kids 2-5 years. Evidence suggests that long periods of screen time are connected with:
- less active, outdoor and creative play
- slower development of language skills
- poor social skills
- an increased risk of being overweight
For children 2 to 5 years of age, the recommendation is that sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic media (DVDs, computer and electronic games) should be limited to less than 1 hour per day.
The thing with this, like many recommendations/guidelines, it that it doesn't come with any practical or tangible support for parents on how to manage or implement this. I can bet my bottom dollar that one of the main reasons we aren't more open to this conversation, is that alongside the other many pressure of modern parenthood, we are afraid of the judgement that will descend when our child is not one of those that fit into said "recommendations". This article from SBS really sums up our new generation as iParents.
I will openly admit that this is something I really struggle with at this age with Luka (he's 3.5). Whilst we have good days - the majority are spent fighting some time of screen time or tech battle. An endless negotiation of how many episodes of Paw Patrol is too many, why we can't watch ABC Kids on mummy's phone in the car and turning the TV/iPad off when asked. Whilst I'm relatively open to the use of tech for certain periods of time each day and completely acknowledge the benefit that comes from tech use as an educational tool, the behavioural challenges that result from the management of screen time with kids is one of my greatest sources of frustration as a parent at this stage. More often than I care to admit, a 30-min negotiation to switch off the TV results in my snatching the remote, turning of the TV and hiding it only to be met with a meltdown to rival Brittany Spears circa 2007.
So whilst I don't profess to know anything about managing this issue that the average person, I wanted to do two things;
1) open up the conversion in a safe place for to discuss and support each other
2) share my views on digital mindfulness for your small humans which I have learnt through trail + error, chatting to others in our community and research in the hope that some may help;
- ensure you download good-quality educational content such as Reading Eggs. It's designed by experienced educators and a great way to give kids beneficial screen time where they're actually learning
- come up with a go-to list of tech-free activities that your child loves that you can draw upon for inspiration - some ideas might include painting, craft, cooking, heading for a walk/scoot/bike-ride or to playground, play-dough, cooking, lego, building blocks, reading, go to the beach, take a day trip, puzzles, making a cubby house, planting/gardening etc
- if you are short on inspiration, here are some resources I've have found helpful;
- Whole Beings is an incredible holistic education resource with an online membership and and incredible eBOOK which is full of screen-time activities to do with your kids and focuses on increasing mindfulness
- The We Do Game - there are 30 suggested screen free activities for families to do together, all packaged in a beautifully designed box
- Join a Local Library or Toy Library
- If you are in Melbourne, check out the Mamma Knows gang for your local area - they are always up-to-date with local markets, fairs, playgrounds, cafes and activities for your littles
- other tips for managing screen-time
- set screen-time limits
- role model the behaviour - put your phone down so you can be fully present
- keep meals media-free
- don't use screen time as a reward
- no devices in the bedroom
What I know for sure, is that we are living in a new era of digital parenting and I have no doubt that the challenges ahead will only become greater. What I also know for sure, is that if we can start a conversation around this topic we can reduce the stigma and shame that so many of us are already feeling and work together to come up with a better way.