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Kids on tablet

Screen time limits

Ask yourself – is this a problem with the device, the child or the parents?

Written by
Grace Yap
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Today’s parent is a busy one, often juggling work with family life and trying to find opportunities for adult time. One of the symptoms of our demanding lives is fatigue, which leads to parents having less time to spend with their children doing fun things

We posed relevant questions concerning the so-called ‘device wars’ fought every day in so many homes to Racheal Kwacz, a child and family development specialist with over 20 years of experience both here and in the US. Specialising in babies and toddlers aged three and under, her methods focus on empowering and equipping parents with the necessary tools to ease parenting through the RACHEAL Method. Respectful Parenting is at the core of Racheal’s methodology – to parent positively to build and maintain a good relationship with your children.

There’s no precise formula for parenting and technology has become a tool with many pros and cons. But parents need to understand that a line must be drawn between using devices for fun or education and when it becomes a full-blown babysitter! Imposing limitations is important and Racheal has some very good advice for all parents struggling with screen time.

How do you define Device Wars?
This is one of my most popular workshops and offers parents the tools, strategies and information behind why we do what we do and the research behind it. There’s such a big problem with technology, and we need to protect children from this fast-moving world without leaving them behind. One important tool for parents is to sit with your child and not leave him/her alone with the device. It’s not a ‘be quiet’ or distracting tool, nor is it a babysitter. It’s about coming up with ways to empower parents to combine both technology and raising a child in this era successfully, confidently and lovingly.

Baby on laptop

What do you think is an appropriate age to expose kids to devices and what problems can arise with excessive use?
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) guidelines suggest that children under 18 months should have no access to devices, while those 18-24 months may have limited screen time. But what it should be is that screen time should only be introduced to children aged two and above. And only high-quality programming should be watched, e.g. if the show is talking about corn starch, also let the child actually feel or handle corn starch to understand exactly what is being taught or said. The AAP also states that children below 18 months should get no screen time except for video chatting as this is interactive and focuses on social skills.

Studies have shown that teens who spend less than an hour of screen time daily were happier participating in sports, social activities, reading and spending time with family. Those who spent lots of time on their devices encountered problems with concentration, posture and sleep. Computer vision syndrome (CVS) also becomes a problem where young children are only blinking an average of five times per minute when they should be blinking at least 15 times. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the UK has said that there’s a rising number of children who lack the motor skills to play with building blocks even though they can swipe a screen. The basic skill of stacking blocks teaches rudimentary arithmetic and ultimately how the world works.

What kids are doing during screen time is more important than the screen time limit – do you agree?
I don’t agree because if we put aside the cognitive and emotional effects, and focus on the physical, there’s a lot of mental over-stimulation that can lead to health issues like obesity. For as long as they are on a device, these children aren’t outside playing. We need to move our bodies – think how exhausting it is to work on a computer all day. It makes no sense for any two-year-old to be doing this.

Kids on tablet

What are your thoughts about devices being used during mealtimes to keep children quiet?
The heart of my Respectful Parenting workshop is about raising children to be calm, compassionate and respectful in the future. The more a device is offered as a distraction or to keep them quiet, the less likely they are going to be able to handle the real world. It’s teaching them to control their feelings. Behind those tantrums could be a screen time addiction or them not being able to get away with it – this then becomes a parenting problem.

Parents forget that boundaries are the highest form of love and giving your child boundaries does not make you a bad parent. It teaches them to cope in a world that has boundaries and rules for a reason. In my Toddler Wars class, there are different parenting styles and permissive parenting is where the kids do whatever they want. Their happiness rate, in the long run, is very low because they get used to having the world cater to them (the entitled generation) and they can’t cope with the pressure. Parents set them up this way and this is unfair.

Imposing screen time limits is easier said than done especially for working parents. What’s your advice for this?
As a parent and a working adult, there’s the temptation of giving in and handing my daughter a device. There will be days when it’s ‘Paw Patrol’ day (she loves ‘Paw Patrol’) – there’s the ideal way to parent and the reality that there will be days when she gets the device. What’s important is what parents do on all those other days. Ask yourself, what can I do within this capability and not make it a habit. And when you have ‘those’ days, forgive yourself and try to be better tomorrow.

Kids on tablet

How can working parents show a good example when it comes to screen time?
You are your child’s biggest role model so start with putting phones down during mealtimes. There should be rules for the whole family and the idea is to start small. Personally, I have a strict family rule where we put our phones away during dinner. By doing this, you’re teaching your child to prioritise people, interaction and family over a device. In your child’s eyes, you can do no wrong. You are their first superhero so be the superhero they deserve!

Last words of advice…
I know how hard it is to keep children off the devices, especially when living within an extended family household where grandparents or relatives love showing your child cool things online. Be kind to yourself and always check in. There’s no such a thing as the perfect parent, and it’s all about trying to do better. The only way is to curb bad habits is from a young age. This is at the core of what I teach – how to raise confident, compassionate, capable, resilient little children from the start.

Find out more about Racheal Kwacz and her sessions on her website rachealkwacz.com, or get in touch at hello@rachealkwacz.com.

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