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As a parent, I’m concerned about my kids’ screen time – but am I a hypocrite?

Convincing kids to limit their screen time is largely a matter of willpower and of finding attractive alternatives – not just using an app so that a tablet automatically turns itself off after a certain period of time

Will Gore
Friday 04 January 2019 02:01 GMT
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Screens are useful tools for learning too
Screens are useful tools for learning too (Getty)

I am not, for the most part, a technophobe. True, I’m not at all convinced that technology has made our lives better in every respect (is anyone?) – but the balance is in its favour, across a whole range of measures in a multitude of sectors. And for the most part I know what I’m doing when it comes to electronic devices, though I’m always anxious about the possibility of breaking them (even if I rarely do).

Nevertheless, I’m painfully conscious that I don’t have the intuitive grasp of everyday technology that is evident among those under the age of 30 who did not know a time before mobile phones. In fact, forget mobiles, before I went to university in 1997 I don’t think I knew what emails were.

My eldest child, at nine, already has a kind of immediate instinct for electrical gadgets that I will probably never have. There is no fear of trial and error, and a keenness to understand the mechanics that lie behind computer games and other screen-based tools. She can put together a powerpoint presentation that puts my efforts to shame.

All this makes the challenge of restraining my children’s screen time all the trickier. Of course there are plenty of apps to help. My wife and I can add parental controls to the TV, or to the tablet that our daughter was given (to her glee) by a godmother; but if and when she works out our passwords, she could probably change the limits we’d set and we wouldn’t realise for weeks.

No doubt things will become even more complicated when mobile phones ,and social media, enter the frame.

Still, the use of tech to prevent the overuse of tech is only a part of the picture. Convincing children to limit their screen time is largely a matter of willpower and of finding attractive alternatives – not just using an app so that a tablet automatically turns itself off after a certain period of time, or at a particular point in the evening.

That isn’t necessarily easy either, of course. If my kids are anything to go by – and they seem fairly typical examples – telling them that the telly’s being turned off because they have watched enough is likely to provoke anything from a cross stare to a full-on tantrum, especially from the three-year-old. Threats of violence from him are not unknown.

But without wishing to get all Victorian about it, parenting is sometimes about making basic decisions about your offspring’s daily lives. And the latest message from the Royal College of Paediatrics about the impact of too much (or at least the wrong sort of) screen time on our children’s health should remind all parents of the need to be firm.

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There is a fallacious argument (made not least by children themselves) that proper participation in the modern world is only possible with almost unlimited access to screens of one sort or another. It’s nonsense of course, but the kind of nonsense that becomes self-fulfilling if everyone believes it.

And the reality is that many parents (including me at times, I’m sure) set the worst kind of example by perpetually reaching for their phone to check the latest work email, football score or social media lols.

Indeed, let’s not focus on the children only. We’d all benefit – physically and psychologically – from a bit less time in front of a screen. If we can tell the kids it’s time to stop, why on earth can’t we say the same to ourselves?

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