My four-year-old has an iPad. Should I feel guilty?
By Lucy Stephenson
AS I write my four-year-old has his face glued to his iPad. He was like that last night at dinner too, and first thing this morning when he woke up.
Does that make me a bad parent? Hell no! In fact, it makes me a better one.
Because first and foremost, he’s having some down time, relaxing after a morning at the beach and, last night, taking a break between socialising with 14 members of his extended family who we are on holiday with and dancing in the hotel disco.
And secondly, screen time keeps me sane, allows me to have a shower now and again, put the washing on, do some work, sometimes I even get to have a hot cup of tea!
We all need a bit of down time, whatever our age.
For me, it’s best spent watching trash TV that I don’t have to use my brain for.
For my son, it’s watching Netflix on his iPad.
New guidelines from the World Health Organisation say that sedentary screen time, including computer games, should be limited to less than an hour a day for two- to four-year-olds, but less is better. Babies and toddlers should not be left to passively watch TV or other screens at all.
The word passive is important here and apparently things such as video chats and programmes that require active participation, such as dancing along to what’s on the screen or e-books that parents read with them, don’t count.
However, apparently the UK has no plans to update its own advice on screen use, which sets no time limits. But it does say that children should avoid screens before bedtime.
The UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, meanwhile, says there’s actually little evidence that screen use for children is harmful alone. And that’s the thing, as long as screen time isn’t a replacement for fresh air, fun, family time and new experiences, it’s not unhealthy in my book, at any age. Some days there will be more of it than others, but that doesn’t matter.
I’d also go further and say that the use of computers and tablets is a useful development skill for young children.
Just like reading, writing and numbers, technology is now a major skill our children require as they grow up.
The entrepreneurs, technicians, scientists, engineers, developers and so on of the future will have started to develop their skills early.
There’s also other benefits to screen time – counting and letter recognition games are big favourites in our house right now. And even watching YouTube videos can teach our children all sorts.
As a baby my son also enjoyed a few minutes here and there of something called Baby Einstein – Mozart music accompanied by somewhat psychedelic pictures that apparently babies love.
It seemed to soothe him and meant a precious few minutes for mum at a time when life, for all its ups with a new baby, can also be stressful.
However, it’s all very well saying I’m not bothered by the WHO recommendations, but the issue comes when others who have read the headlines then judge you and your family when they see a child and a screen.
Parenthood, apparently, opens up a whole new world of opportunities for people to be judgmental, and even sometimes actually openly comment about your family, your decisions and your life.
Having ‘medical guidance’ to back it up only makes it worse.
But, as with so much in life, unless you really know someone well, chances are you don’t have a clue what’s going on in their lives, what they were doing an hour ago, how they are feeling or their situation that day.
You also don’t know how much screen time their child has had that day, what they are learning from it or what else they’ve also been up to.
So take the WHO advice with a pinch of salt, and trust parents’ own decisions about what is right for them.
Please don’t use it as a excuse to add screen time to the list of Things To Judge Parents On, which also includes breastfeeding, the food their children eat, kids misbehaving and dummies.
And actually it’s a message that applies to all walks of life too, and the judgmental brigade who police them, to relax a little and keep your opinions, if you must have them, to yourself.