A wide selection of handheld devices and screen-based toys are available today, in addition to the array of social media available to both children and adults. A much-discussed concern is the negative impact too much screen time may have on child social development and parent-child bonding. This can promote stress in parents and caregivers in living up to expectations set by peers and media, on what is the “right” amount of screen time.
Research on the negative effects of screen time includes:
- Findings that technology interrupts parents’ time with their children three or more times on a typical day.
- Correlation between handheld screen time and delays in expressive speech in pre-talking children.
However, research has also shown:
- Children are resilient to screen consumption for up to six hours daily (although a large amount of daily screen time is of course not recommended).
- An insignificantly small association between excessive screen time and higher levels of depression and delinquency among teenagers.
Additionally, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) once recommended only two hours screen time a day for youth, but the new guidelines have dropped this recommendation, based upon the difficulty of establishing a “correct” amount.
A recent study by the AAP showed that many caregivers reported feeling they needed to buy their children tablets to keep up with the educational system and workforce demands. These peer pressures on buying new technology can weigh especially heavy on lower income households. Parents also worried about how strong their children were drawn to mobile devices and gaming, and many low-income caregivers said that it was difficult to stay on top of what apps or social media their children were using and did not feel confident in their ability to set limits on use.
In terms of parents’ own screen time use, research has shown that many first time parents actually increase the amount of time they spend on Facebook after the birth of their child. Parents were shown to use social media such as Facebook for positive feedback and reinforcement (those who said it was likely friends would comment on photos, also reported higher levels of satisfaction in their parenting role). However, mothers who were more frequent visitors to Facebook reported higher levels of parenting stress – constantly checking social media may contribute to pressure felt to appear “the perfect parent”.
The Parent Centred Parenting (PCP) approach
It is important to keep in mind the modelling aspect of the Parent Centred Parenting approach regarding screen time use. If a child observes her parents on their phones or tablets during quality time i.e. family dinner time or when she is trying to recount a story from school, she may be more likely to think that it is acceptable to have these devices at the dinner table and be less present in social situations.
The PCP approach emphasises the use of the Play Diet for screen time, recommending imaginative, creative and social play outside and indoors should be the majority “food group”. However, a parent should not feel inadequate if screen time provides a productive activity for their child when they might need a break or moment for themselves. After all, what is more harmful, a child playing an educational gaming app for half an hour while mum has a cup of tea, or mum breaking down in front of her child because she is worn out and has lost her temper?
Setting hard limits on screen use has the potential to do more to foster guilt in parents who are unable to meet unrealistic expectations than it does to help children. In fact, researchers see more value in focusing on how screen time media are used, as they can promote learning and socialisation. Becoming familiar with screen technologies is beneficial as it is becoming an essential part of modern life, in education, work, entertainment and personal organisation.