Kids, guilt and screen time. Are we getting the whole story?

*major re-write on 21 June 2016*

Family watching TV together

I try hard not to beat myself up about whether I am doing the right things as a parent, but it's hard.  Especially when you get headlines like this one from the Huffington Post: '10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12'

I am pretty resilient when it comes to parental scaremongering. I don't believe my children will be abducted if I let them play outside the house. I am not convinced that sugar in commercial muesli bars will do them lasting damage and I do believe that risk is developmentally helpful.

But 'screen time' is my Achilles heel. It's an ongoing battle between my confidence and guilt.  

My boys watch screens.  The little one binge watches Power Rangers on Netflix and the big one can quickly find his way around a You Tube football video or 20.  I try to limit the time that they spend in front of screens and there are rules; no screen time before school... actually, that might be the only rule.

I'm not advocating complete parental neglect when it comes to kids and electronic media. We do explain to the kids that too long on screens means missing out on other fun activities and I'm pleased to see that my eldest (almost eight) is beginning to self-regulate and will switch the screen off to kick the football. He also insists that his younger brother switches off too. Fair's fair huh?

But sometimes, often times, the  kids are tired and I'm tired and there are 1,000 jobs to do and it's just easier and more enjoyable for everyone if they zone out in front of a screen while I get the jobs done. 

But then the guilt kicks in.

So I was reassured when I read that: 

  • The research into the long term effects of screens on kids (other than TV) just isn't there yet. The technology is evolving faster than the science.
  • Just because there's a link, doesn't mean there's a cause

We know that kids with screens in their bedrooms are more likely to be overweight, have lower health-related quality of life and to perform worse on standardised school-based tests but they also get less exercise, less sleep, snack more, eat more junk food, drink more soft drink, are overweight and have a lower health-related quality of life. 

Are screens causing health problems for these kids?

No. These kids are also from our poorest households which tend to have the lowest level of education, are more likely to be single-parent households, have lower incomes and lower health-literacy. That's the stuff that the media articles leave out. Just because the research finds a link between two factors - screen time and health outcomes - doesn't necessarily mean one causes the other. There can be many other factors at play.

Parenting is hard.  We do beat ourselves up. Guilt inducing headlines make it tougher - and don't give us all of the facts.

Screens, like social media, are part of our every day and like everything else, balance is the key. We teach our kids to 'Just do your best.' Perhaps we should remind ourselves to do the same?


What do you think? Do you struggle with kids and screens?