Friday, 22 September 2017

Screen Time Revelations!

My husband and I have recently made a fascinating discovery about screen time. The result of which has been, quite frankly, life changing for us.
Since it’s become the norm to own a phone or tablet and more importantly, be glued to that device playing games or scrolling social media endlessly, there has been a lot of media attention focused on whether or not screen time is healthy for us. The blue light emitted from most hand held devices such as phones and tablets can inhibit sleep, for example. So there is plenty of readily available advice about the downside of not having to stare awkwardly into space, avoiding eye contact on public transport!
But. Did we, the Helicopters, as a family, HEED this advice? DID we? Did we heck.
Emlyn and I are as guilty as anyone of coming in from work, feeding and watering the kids, plonking them in front of the TV and then ignoring each other whilst we autonomously check our own newsfeeds in case something amazing has happening in the half hour since we last checked.
This is pretty shit parenting, granted. But I am sure we’re not alone. And I'm being glib here, obviously we’re not that bad….we don’t leave the TV to babysit for hours imprisoned into our own screen addiction. Also I think most people these days feel a bit of guilt about the amount of mindless phone scrolling they do.
With kids however, how do you know how much screen time is too much? Some kids will be naturally drawn to hand held devices. I know it can be a life saver for parents with kids on the autistic spectrum. Jodie from A First Time Valley Mam who’s son is on the scale says it helps him get to sleep every night.
Other kids will love the adrenaline buzz of playing games, watching funny videos or even just watching regular kids TV on them. This is great if you’re on long car journeys or in a doctors waiting room etc. It’s less great when you’re trying to get them out of the door for school or upstairs to brush their teeth for bed.
And then there’s the question about filters and parental controls… are they watching appropriate stuff? Are they chatting to weirdos? Eeek!
So what’s the answer? Well ….we’ve been a bit tardy to the screen-time-is-bad party. We have a 7 year old boy who’s a quite the regular to the “hand held device show” and a 3 year old girl who vaguely showed an interest in the iPad then got over it. However, we've just made a BIG stand with screen time and the results have been remarkable.
As I mentioned, we've been pretty lax with how much screen time our oldest has had. From the age of about 3 we’ve very lazily and let him take our phones (then later the iPad) to play on when he wakes up in the morning. This is because for years he woke between 5-6am everyday. It would enable us to have another half hour-hour asleep when he was younger and then a bit more time as he got older and more independent. But a young boy who’s had a good few hours on an iPad with no breakfast, is probably not going to be Mr Happy when we eventually roll our lazy butts out of bed. And yet it’s taken us years to realise this. I know, WTF is wrong with us?!
He's always been quite an angry kid but when his sister came along we put it down to jealousy. Then when he started school we thought it was tiredness. Things got particularly bad at the end of his last school term. He was permanently stroppy about everything. It was getting to the point where I thought we might have to get some professional anger management advice for him. I was gutted that he seemed so unhappy with his life and I felt like we really might need someone to help us work through whatever it was making him so frustrated.
I planned a trip to the doctor to discuss this and his issues with sleep. He’d stay up late (despite being in a proper wind-down bed routine since he was a baby) and still wake up at the crack of dawn. The day before I took him, I'd heard from a friend that she'd banned screen time with one of her sons who’d been sneaking off and watching YouTube. It had a huge impact on his behaviour. We'd been reluctant to try it really because we were cowards. We knew that the few times before when we had hidden the iPad in the mornings, he'd wake the whole house up at 5.30am singing or playing loudly.
That night though, we bit the bullet and gave him and out and out ban on all hand held screen time in the week and no longer than a handful of 10 mins intervals on the weekends. His behaviour DRASTICALLY improved. The doctor did give us some advice about sleep which has really helped too. The two things must be related. He’s currently not waking up super early and it can’t be a coincidence that he’s not allowed to race down stairs and get the iPad. He gets up and draws or plays with his lego. He doesn’t bellow the house down! Who knew?! I’m utterly gob smacked by the whole thing! Why the HECK didn’t we do this sooner?! I mean really?! What is WRONG with us!
Mornings are so SO much easier without him being stroppy and rude after being asked to put the iPad down. He's a different child. Not only has his mood improved, he's stopped being so horrible to his sister which is a bloody miracle. He spends his time either on the trampoline, writing stories, drawing or making stuff. It seems so completely obvious now…
It is still a bit of a battle sometimes. When he’s feeling tired and lazy, he’ll just want to sit down and zone out and he’ll beg to go on a phone or whatever. But we are standing firm. He’ll usually just settle for a film on the TV.
So my advice to you, at the end of this, is if you are having behaviour issues with your kids and you can’t work out why, maybe check how much screen time they get. Kids aren’t all the same but for some, it’s most definitely a perpetrator of doom! So perhaps it’s time to step away from the iPad….
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