Screen time – should parents forbid it?

Let’s talk about screen time.

Screen time, the new forbidden for parents of today. I was born in the ’80s and the discussion of the effects of TV on children was raging. As a kid, I was told I would get square eyes if I watched too much telly. I never understood what the grown-ups meant with square eyes. Did the eyes just change form all of a sudden?

Now the telly has become just as common in the everyday home like the kitchen and toilet. Today the discussion and evil eye have shifted towards tablets and computers.

WHO has just released new guidelines for children’s screen time and I wanted to add my thoughts to the raging discussion that often leads to more guilt and pressure on parents.

Tablets, TV, computers, and other screens are not the devil’s devices nor is it a substitute for a human being. Screen time is not solely good or bad but both depending on what and how it’s being used.

WHO recommend children under one year old to not use any type of screen at all, for children between two and four years shouldn’t have more than one hour of screen time per day. The less the better is the opinion.

This is supported by some psychological research that amongst others concluded that babies cannot grasp the often fast pace on TV and the stimulation becomes too high for babies to sort out and thus often become distressed.

The fact that the world’s population, especially in the western part of the world, is growing more obese is also partly due to the screen time phenomenon of today.

And to top it up it can be hard as a parent to monitor what your children watch and do when on the Internet and the chances are that your child will see something disturbing and not age appropriate. Being exposed to violence on screen is known to lower the sensitiveness towards real-life violence and desensitizes a person’s helpfulness towards others. This is shown even when exposed to violence on a screen for only a few minutes.

With that said research has also found that educational games and videos can increase a child’s learning development, for some children this form of learning is better than traditional learning. It can enhance our attention control and is a great tool to limit the stimulations for children finding it hard with too many stimuli such as ADHD and ADD.

As always, the research and ‘facts’ are contradictory and confusing. What is best for children?

In my opinion, and what always alarms me is the single sidedness in most things regarding guidelines in parenting.

These guidelines, like most guidelines, are written with the child in focus. It aims to protect and shield children from obesity, overstimulation and roaming free in a digital world they’re not yet mature for. While this is a good thing I want to point out, or perhaps scream since this version of the truth often gets lost in translation.

What is best for children is wellbeing, happy and healthy parents. And parents have different needs to become that version of themselves. In order to be that version of themselves, rules of thumbs, guidelines and other recommendations aren’t always beneficial. Sometimes it actually does more harm than good whatever the intention.

A parent with a highly stressed every day may need an extra half an hour to cool down after work to really be present with the child and may surpass the recommended daily hour rule but with greater benefits in the long run. Quality time is more valuable than quantity.

Parents with children who have ADHD need tools to get their children to focus which eases their overstimulated minds as well as time to breathe and find calmness for themselves.

Single parents, depressed parents, stressed out parents, parents with mental illnesses or parents that just had too much who need that extra time to find their way back to the best versions of themselves. You’re not doing it wrong. You’re not bad parents!

And to everyone that says there are other ways, that screens are the worst thing you could do for your children, that you could rest when the kids are asleep. That they didn’t have screens growing up and they turned out fine, that it was better before. It just doesn’t work that way. It just isn’t always that simple. It’s not possible to remove the human in you. And it’s not possible to reverse time!

Screens will not disappear, it’s here to stay and it’s not the devil’s device, it’s not evil or solely bad.

Screens can be used as a tool, it can help and ease. Just because the older generations didn’t grow up with it doesn’t mean it’s bad. The world is developing and evolving and today’s parents face a completely new set of challenges that is both confusing and complex.

So I’ll say it again and again, do what works for you. Only you know what you need. Do what you need to in order to be the best version of yourself.  That way, you will be more present, you will see your child for who he/she is, be more open, more receptive and thus be a better parent.

With that being said, screen time can both be good and bad depending on what you do with it. Use it wisely with both you and your child in focus.