This is how to limit screen time for children

Hello again! Sorry I’ve been away for a while. Well actually, sorry not sorry. I’ve been on a little self imposed digital detox. I’ve been trying to limit screen time for my children.

I noticed that they were getting a bit obsessed with TV, computers and my phone. Even my baby wanted to play with my phone. My kids have been asking for TV more and more. When they do watch it they can’t stop. Their eyes glaze over. Power Rangers are sucking the energy and spirit out of my kids.

limiting screen time for children

Limiting screen time, Embracing technology

Don’t misunderstand me. I think it’s great that my children love technology. It fascinates me to see my two-year-old Rafa using his two podgy fingers to zoom in. I’ve been known to ask my five-year-old, Sebastian, how to get Netflix to work. But watching a show together as a family isn’t the same as dumping them with YouTube so I can get my chores done.

System error

I’d already cut screen time for my children to television on weekends only, and then only in the mornings or early afternoons. (TV before bed sends my kids moody and hyper). They don’t have access to an iPad or other gadgets.

But I still felt guilty. I realised that my baby was reaching for my phone because I was always on it. Why should she play with her dumb plastic set of keys when I (and everyone else for that matter) is glued to Whatsapp? Of course my one-year-old can’t talk yet, but she was making it pretty clear: ‘Mama, put that piece of plastic down and take me to the park. Please’. So we did just that.

At the park I saw an exhausted child minder with a toddler in a pushchair. She was taking a break while the kid gazed aimlessly at a phone flashing with fluorescent shapes. My first thought was goddamn it, put the kid in the swing! Put her in the sand pit, at least. You’re in a park, ****!

trip to the park with baby Annabelle

Judgmental parenting 1.0

Then I felt guilty again. (Is motherhood just one big guilt trip?) The mummy who promised to herself she would never judge was judging. Who knows her situation? Who knows how long she’d been playing with the child before I arrived. She’d given the kid a phone, not heroin. And besides, perhaps I’ve been ignoring Annabelle just as badly?

Screen time to the rescue

Annabelle is a very, very easy baby. My second child wasn’t. Rafa needed a lot of extra care in his first few months, meaning his sibling got a lot less. Sebasitan got Telly Tubbies. And Paw Patrol. And far too much Thomas the Tank Engine.

Nowadays not only do I have an easy baby, but I’m also incredibly fortunate in that I don’t have to work full time. We have a cleaning lady to help a few days per week and I am lucky enough to be able to stay at home with my children. I can afford screen time limits.

Are screen time limits a luxury for pampered parents? Is TV really so bad anyway? Am I just reading too many parenting blogs?

Crack for kids? 

Infants and toddlers under the age of two years should not spend any time in front of screens, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization. The limit for two- to four-year-olds is an hour a day and less is better, apparently.

I watched an interview with Carolina Perez, a Chilean child pedagogical expert whom I respect a lot. In this interview she discussed the negative impact of screen time on the child’s brain. (It’s in Spanish, you can access it here). This freaked me out so much that I considered transforming our TV into a table for messy play. But then I figured my husband might not like that so I did a big (online… damn it) shop for craft sets and fun activity goodies.

television

Child’s play

Since then our afternoons have been chaotic, but fun. We’ve made polystyrene solar systems, we’ve learnt how electrical circuits work (I never really got it as a kid) and we’ve made a hell of a lot of play dough.

I’ve noticed a big difference. My baby doesn’t seem to care about my phone. My children still demand TV, but they know they’re not going to get it and soon start demanding other things. ‘Mummy, make me a super hero mask!’ We’re sailing on sofa ships while dodging shark cushions. We’re building Spiderman tools and hiding in bat caves. We’re outside a lot more.

Call the doctor, Mummy needs Netflix

But it’s not all good. I’m exhausted. My window of opportunity to get my work done has shrunk to evenings only. I struggle to deal with three kids at one. Feed milk, wipe bum or comfort after a fall… What’s the correct order?

But all in all I’m happier. I’ve missed out on some Whatsapp chats, but I’m a lot more content without the constant ping, ping, ping.

I try to be as phone free as possible, but with three kids in tow, one of whom has severe allergy issues, I don’t feel comfortable leaving it behind. I do all my grocery shopping online. I love a good book, but exhausted at 10pm, nothing quite beats Netflix and a good take out.

In truth this hasn’t so much been a digital detox as a limiting of screen time. And it’s worked. I’ve found at least that the best way to limit screen time for kids is to limit it for parents too.

How I’ve been limiting my screen time: 

  1. My phone is turned to silent for all notifications. Only calls are on audio.
  2. I set clearer boundaries between looking after my kids and working on the computer. Trying to look after my kids and get work done at the same time just makes me frustrated and my kids want to watch a computer screen.
  3. We don’t have local channels, only Netflix.
  4. No screens are allowed at the family dinner table.
  5. I use a camera instead of my phone for taking photos.
  6. Before replying to a message, query or social media post, I ask myself, ‘Who cares?’ Chances are my kids need me more than that random person asking where to find decaf tea.

News update: Spanish speaking parents in Santiago listen up! International school Nido de Aguilas is hosting a workshop with pedagogical expert Carolina Peréz on Monday 12st October at 7pm. It is free and open to the public, but you need to RSVP. It will be in Spanish only.

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