26 Jul 2017

Rage against the machine

From Are We There Yet?, 3:35 pm on 26 July 2017

Phones, tablets, laptops, whatever the device, your children will want to get their hands on it. In the fourth episode of Are We There Yet ? Katy Gosset talks to parents about the struggle against screen time.

Kids on computers

Kids on computers Photo: Google images

"Your time is up !"

That's the catch cry of parenting today.

Once it might have been "Dinner time", "Time to go to school", "Time to brush your teeth, go to bed …etc, etc."

Now it's all about screen time.

How much are my children getting ? Are they getting too much ? And is it affecting their brains ?

A young boy watches a show on TV

Photo: 123RF

In the struggle against screens, some have switched off entirely.

"For probably about a year we've had no television for the kids [although], when they go to their grandparents they binge actually on TV to make up for the TV they don't get at our place." Father of two

"They can turn on the TV themselves so I actually completely unplug it.. [] It was very challenging probably at the start [when] he'd be like "I want TV, I want the Ipad" [] but I would just sure I was there to be able to interact with him, play with him [and used] distraction techniques." Mother of two

Others with older children have had to monitor online activities closely

"We stop at 9.00pm. They can have it after school when they come home but no phones at the dinner table.ever." Mother of four

And then there are outside influences…

"My younger kid, he's probably the one that I worry about more and he's also much more influenced by other kids and what they're doing- like [being] shown how to access a porn site.

"He wasn't interested in it but other kids were showing him and he thought that was what you had to do." Mother of two.

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Photo: 123RF

So how much is too much ?

Clinical psychologist, Catherine Gallagher said, ironically, she found good information online about age appropriate screen time durations, courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"They had some findings: under 18 months: apparently none. In between two and five: one hour a day and between six and 18 up to two hours a day."

Ms Gallagher said, while these were useful guidelines, they could also promote guilt.

"I read that and automatically thought 'my children are going to be disadvantaged because they've certainly had more than that.'"

Catherine Gallagher

Catherine Gallagher Photo: RNZ / Katy Gosset

She believed screen time was neither good or bad: it was about striking the balance.

Also important was building a child's capacity to self-regulate and to entertain her or himself.

Ms Gallagher said, increasingly, children grew bored more easily and looked to parents and screens to entertain them.

"I think that capacity to just be OK in your own skin and entertain yourself and tolerate that boredom is something that is potentially becoming more difficult."

She said problems could arise when online activities interfered with normal developmental functions.

"Such as sleeping , such as interacting, such as family time."

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Photo: 123rf

How then to allocate time on devices ?

Ms Gallagher said parents need not panic if their children loved being online as the Internet could offer many entertaining and educational opportunities and it was difficult for children to be abruptly told to stop having fun.

"I think most adults could agree with that, that, when we're having a really great time and someone says "Stop now" we don't typically go "OK"."

But she said parents did need to set clear boundaries about the amount of screen time allowed and to develop strategies for getting their child on and off a device.

"It would be really important to say "It's coming up to your finishing time, if you can handle it well, then you're going to be able to get your access to it tomorrow."

However she said a child who made a fuss and took time getting off the device might lose that same amount of time the following day.

"The child might not believe you the first time and might kick off for quite a long period of time.

But then, the next time they go to use their device and they've got it for five minutes they start to pick up on the fact that, "Oh that thing that happened yesterday, actually it's biting me on the bum now.""

The government wants to let children enrol in online-only schools instead of going to regular schools.

The government wants to let children enrol in online-only schools instead of going to regular schools. Photo: 123RF

Ms Gallagher said parents should also look at their own online use and consider what they're modelling to their children.

She said parents would find it harder to get their children off screens if they were still online themselves.

"So you can have those inconsistencies that can make, I suppose, laying these things down more challenging."

But it was important for parents to establish early on that they were part of their children's online world.

"That you do hold passwords, that you are able to peruse or check the things that they are putting online, histories and those sorts of things."

And she said it was important to keep up with technology, talking to other parents and Netsafe about online trends.

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Photo: Pexels free photo

If something unexpected or inappropriate turned up on line, parents should be prepared for some difficult conversations.

Ms Gallagher said she had dropped small details about sexual violence or online safety into conversations with her children to initiate a discussion.

"I work in the area of sexual violence and hear information about pornography or other things that go on. I'm sure my children dread the fact that I come home and just say "Oh, I learnt about this today."

She used "drop and run" conversations to pose a question or briefly introduce an idea. Her children would often groan about this but the comment had enabled her to start a wider conversation about an issue.

"If I sat down with a cup of tea and said "Right, let's talk about pornography, they'd go "What ?!" So I think often being brave as parents to "drop and run".

She said parents should learn to use small incidents as they occur to generate wider discussions.

"It doesn't have to be a two hour intense heart to heart but you're just letting your kids know that you know some of this stuff and you're open to having a conversation about it if they need to."