Relax! Why You Shouldn’t Worry So Much About Screen Time

Luke BenedictusBy Luke Benedictus.
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Back in the day, fatherhood used to largely consist of putting food on the table, administering discipline and cracking ineffectual one-liners. Today, it’s fair to say, things have changed. We barely have time for all that stuff anymore – we’re too busy worrying about screen time. But a new report suggests that all our hand-wringing may be misplaced.

Admittedly, every parent has experienced this nagging sense of unease. Your four-year-old stares into the iPad with lobotomy eyes mainlining back-to-back episodes of Charlie and Lola. To break the spell, you must prise the tablet from their mewling grasp. Then calm the inevitable meltdown that follows.

This is a familiar scenario. Last year, a study of 2000 British parents found that, before their child is four, parents whip out the iPad 288 times in a desperate bid to get some peace. (The real take-home here is that British parents are liars – that number is far too conservative).

Yet the upshot of all this is that parents are having their innards gnawed away by guilt. Screen time, we fear, is wreaking havoc with our children’s minds and condemning them to lives of depression, anxiety and insomnia.

That’s why a new report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK comes as a welcome voice of reason. You can read the whole thing here. But the crux of the report can be gleaned from the following: “We believe that the risks from screen exposure should not be overstated. The evidence is relatively weak overall.”

OK, so this falls short of a flag-waving endorsement. And there are still recommendations to heed: you don’t want your kids to be looking at screens 24/7, you don’t want them to be watching ABC Kids while eating (this can distract children from feeling full), and you want to make sure that screen use doesn’t interfere with their sleep (avoid the iPad for the hour before bedtime).

But in the context of the mounting hysteria, the report feels refreshingly sane. Obviously, you don’t want your kids’ screen use to take over their lives. But nor should you crucify yourself if you let your daughter watch a couple of episodes of Bluey to buy yourself a chance to do the dishes, send that vital work email or make yourself a ham sandwich. Fatherhood isn’t a game for perfectionists, it’s a slapstick disaster-zone latticed with guilt. Don’t be afraid to cut yourself a bit of slack.