There is a huge amount of pressure on parents regarding the amount of screen time children are allowed. It is really demoralising in the playground to listen to parents whose children are only allowed to watch half an hour of TV at weekends and only educational programmes at that. It makes most parents feel inadequate, resentful, guilty and cross, but is this justified?
A limited amount of age-appropriate TV can be good for children. The reports that demonise TV and screen time look only at one issue: the socio-cognitive development of one child. This misses out on a range of other developmental opportunities and completely ignores the needs of the rest of the family.
Of course, allowing children to sit in front of the computer or TV for hours on end isn’t healthy but the benefits to the whole family of giving children some down time in front of good quality TV, where they’re not making a mess, giving a harangued parent time to regroup or get the dinner on, can outweigh any negative effects the TV may have.
There are examples of great quality childrens’ television. The BBC has no commercials and the content is age appropriate and engaging. Watching some programmes with the children allows parents to talk about the story lines and characters. If you balance screen time with active play, e.g. if children watch half an hour of TV or play on the computer, they might go and play in the garden for half an hour, or go to the park. It’s not rocket science -homework and chores should get done first, but after that, if they want to watch TV or play on the computer for half an hour or so, why shouldn’t they?
The surprising effect of a more permissive approach to screen time is that it’s not seen as a treat or forbidden fruit so children don’t crave it as much. They learn to self-regulate to a certain extent and although they might watch more TV than you would like at times, at others they will switch it off voluntarily and play instead. Children’s lives are being increasingly micro-managed by parents and this is hampering the development of some important skills, including decision making, self-discipline/regulation, responsibility and self-reliance.
Isn’t it time we gave our children the chance to develop holistically and, in today’s world, that includes being au fait with technology and able to make decisions and learn to live with the consequences. Play is the best vehicle for children to learn through and balancing all the different types of play opportunities enables children to develop naturally, at their own pace