There is no denying that family life can be demanding, juggling parenting with working and running a home. Children need interaction in some form or other and often there isn’t the time or opportunity to give them the attention that they need. Parents look to their available resources to compensate for this and in today’s age an easy option is to give their children some form of device for entertainment. Often this is used as a form of bribery, but I believe that is a dangerous path to follow. Whilst I don’t have children, I fully appreciate why parents will resort to this, as I am sure I would do the same. Children love their devices and will happily spend hours on them if they are allowed. Is it wrong to for children to spend time on devices or is it an important part of their development?
So, what are the concerns regarding device use? In terms of research it is still relatively early days with the results being inconclusive. In its guide to screen time, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) says research is difficult to apply to children and young people because their use of screens is evolving so rapidly.
Potentially, there are quite a few different cons ranging from lack of quality parent and child time, decreased social skills, addiction, sleep disruption and tantrums to name but a few. These can not only be applied to babies and children but also to adults.
Another side effect of tablet use is that it can actually get in the way of family interaction such as at meal times. Meal times form such an important time in our busy family lives. It’s our opportunity to connect with each other and find out about what we have all been up to. This applies to meal times at home but also in public. How many times have you seen a family gathering in a restaurant with the children playing on devices rather than joining in the conversation some of the time? The old saying that children should be seen and not heard still seems to be accurate!
On a positive side, tablets form part of the technological society that we live in. If we deny our children access to these devices from a young age, are we denying them the opportunity to keep up to date? Will they be behind before they have even begun their education? Talking of education, there are clear educational benefits from accessing the Internet and Apps. Learning is fun through these medias and far more interactive than simply watching television.
Another benefit is the ability to remain in touch with your children if works takes you away from home or if you have family who don’t live nearby for regular visits. Video calls allow that face to face conversation that means so much to many of us. My sister lives in New Zealand. Although I have never met her children in the flesh, I almost feel that I have thanks to Skype calls over the years. Friends of mine who are cabin crew like me, are able to speak to their young children when they are away. For them it feels entirely normal as they have never known anything else.
It is hard to set specific guidelines as each child and family is different. Life is about balance and it the personal choice of parents as to what they think is acceptable. Some elements are easier to decide than others. Clear guidelines such as no devices for all the family at mealtimes or in the bedroom have much clearer arguments.
I mentioned bribery in the opening but even that is open to interpretation. By using the threat of device removal as a punishment we are then sending a mixed message by offering the same device as a tool to keep a child distracted.
Device use will also be very different for babies and toddlers versus adolescents. In the earlier years, tablet time requires more supervision. As our children grow, they still need supervision so that they are protected from things such as predators, fake news, bullying and so on but Safeguarding is a whole other subject.
Limiting screen time may be the parents’ choice e.g. only one hour a day but then when they are older and have the choice, will they then have the ability to set limits with their new freedom of choice? Is a more fluid approach better? There are no rules, only guidelines.
I am sure that as time evolves and the generation that has been born into the device era grows into adulthood, we will have more reliable statistics. In the meantime, parents will continue to find their own way of understating and managing this issue, learning from their experience which they can in turn pass onto their children and grandchildren.
There will always be new challenges to parents as time evolves. I don’t envy them that but hopefully the challenges are far outweighed by the joy of being a parent. Who knows, maybe one day I will have that experience myself.
About the author: Stuart Dickson
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’