This week, I wrote in my Thursday photo post that I had noticed a real link between Libby spending a small amount of time in front of a computer and a deterioration in her behaviour.
I want to put a couple of things in context. Firstly, I’m not judging or criticising anyone for letting their children watch television or use iPads or other technology.
After all, I’m only writing this because I totally understand the need to use a screen to entertain children sometimes, because I did just that this week.
The second thing I want to make clear is that Libby watched perhaps an hour of nursery rhymes (in a couple of sittings) on the computer one day, and maybe half an hour the next.
That’s what raised my interest in the subject. Everything I read talks about quite large amounts of screen time. The general consensus seems to be that two hours or more of screen time will effect behaviour.
This Independent article for example says that over four hours of screen time a day has been linked to depression, anxiety and limited social interaction.
For me, this is glaringly obvious and in my opinion it has little to do with the screen time itself. A child of school age probably wakes up in the morning, gets ready and goes to school.
They might get home from school at 4 pm and go to bed at 10 pm. During that time, if they spend four hours in front of a screen, they really won’t do much else.
So the issue in my mind actually revolves around what they don’t do, rather than what they do.
But the problem I’m really interested in is the immediate link between an hour in front of something as harmless as nursery rhymes and an immediate deterioration in behaviour.
I have spent quite a while researching this and there really isn’t anything conclusive. Different articles cite different research with different conclusions, but few focus on small amounts of television.
There are articles like this one from the BBC, saying that excessive television as a toddler can effect a child in later life. But again, they refer to a “recommended maximum” of two hours of television per day.
To me, this is far too much, making the research of very little consequence to me.
Anecdotally, my good friend Maz who blogs at the Maz Shack told me that the powers that be in tech companies like Apple and Windows limit their children to an hour of screen time per day.
Several people also shared stories of their own children having exhibited a change in behaviour when allowed more screen time.
I understand – perhaps better than anybody – the need to use technology or any other means possible to keep children entertained so that us mum’s can get things done.
For me, the problem is perhaps even more accentuated by the fact that I both work from home and look after the girls full time.
As a general rule, when I need a few minutes to myself to have a shower and get ready to take them out in the mornings, I put them in their cots with a book.
The other day, as it was half term and we were in no rush, I let Libby watch nursery rhymes for a few minutes while I got Lia ready.
When we sing nursery rhymes or go to a singing group, it puts both girls in a lovely mood and sets them up for a good day.
And yet, ten minutes of watching nursery rhymes on the computer seemed to totally alter Libby’s behaviour. She was stroppy about turning it off, didn’t want breakfast and asked throughout the day to watch nursery rhymes again.
So for me, the question isn’t about what happens to children long term when they’ve been in front of a screen every day as toddlers.
It’s more about what happens short term to a child who spends ten minutes in front of a computer watching something very innocent and quite educational. Then turns into a stroppy little horror.
I’d love to hear your experiences of this. How long do your children spend in front of a screen each day and how does it effect their behaviour?
I don’t want to stop my girls from having screen time all together because despite everything, I still think it offers some benefits.
What do you think is an optimum amount of screen time per day?