This is Part Two and the final in this series. Part One can be found here. Charlotte continues to answer my questions.
2. You have four children, how does screen time work in your house, are there different rules for each child?
I have to say at this point that I am not unrealistic about the use of technology now within everyday life, but I do think that children’s exposure to it can wait. We still have one tv in our house and it is still capable of playing dvds, although as explained before no longer has the capacity to show terrestrial channels. It was surprising how quickly our eldest two children adapted to the terrestrial television being switched off over a year ago now and the pair of them will sometimes go for weeks, especially in the summer, and not watch it or even ask for it at all. Occasionally they will ask to watch something and so we take them to a local library and let them choose something from the children’s section that they would each like to watch. When we get home they agree which film to watch first and then watch one film one day and the next another. We restrict the time the telly is on for, between 40 minutes to an hour and a half, about the length of a child’s film and then when the film/programme is over one of them will usually get up from where they are sitting and switch off the set by the wall plug themselves. When the television is on either myself or my husband is downstairs with them and one of us takes our youngest two children upstairs to another part of the house to play where there is no television. This type of situation usually only happens around once or twice a month.
My eldest two, J, nearly 7, and A, almost 5, also go to the cinema with my husband during school holidays to see a movie whilst I stay at home with my youngest two, F, 2 and S, 8 months. F and S don’t have any exposure to screens at all at present and so I keep them away from them. None of our children have ever played computer games and are not allowed on the home computer at present as we believe them to be too young, agreeing that children are better equipped to handle computers when between the ages of 9-10 years at least.
We do have a laptop but when it is not in use it can be closed and placed up on a shelf out of the way. Since we have done this myself and my husband have noticed greater creativity and spontaneity in what our children do and we both really feel we are encouraging the use of their imagination more.
3. How do you handle outside pressures?
More and more in the U.K., where we live, there are screens everywhere, in banks, in restaurants, hotels, and bizarrely, in indoor children’s play areas. My solution to this is to physically avoid them where I can. If in the bank I face the buggy with my two youngest two away from the screens, and I just don’t go to play areas where they are overbearing. When it is unavoidable, like for example, at my local dentists where there is an enormous television screen in the waiting room, (which completely negates the presence of the toys and board books that have been carefully placed) I simply ask the receptionist if I can switch it off. The staff here have never refused my request.
The other outside situation where screens pop up is at friend’s houses. I think whether this is a problem or not really depends on the friends that you have. For example, I have a friend who doesn’t like her son playing with toy guns so I make sure I put any we have away before she and her son arrive. When I go round to her house she switches her tv and computer off. We both, at separate times, politely asked if this could be the case and we respect each other’s wishes. If you have friends who don’t respect how you wish to raise your child/children then are they really worth having as friends?
4. Finally, any tips for me or other parents struggling with this issue?
- Be aware that many living rooms are set up with the tv as the main focal point with all the seating pointing to face it. It’s easy to change this dynamic be re-arranging the room or even hiding the tv when it is not in use, such as placing it in a cabinet that can be closed or even by hanging eye catching art on the walls in the area that can take the emphasis off the screen.
- If the television or computer has to be on for a certain amount of time when it is finished with switch it off. Don’t leave it on in the background constantly as your children will become normalised to this and it will be harder and harder to switch it off at all.
- Avoid programmes that have rapid successions of images such as some cartoons, music videos and adverts. Try putting on an age appropriate old fashioned black and white film, they are much more slower paced and add change to what your children watch.
- Help children feel they have choice and encourage decision making by taking them to somewhere where they can rent an age appropriate movie.
- Try and be with older children when they are watching programmes, try not to rush away to do errands and try getting them involved with your housework another time instead.
- Place plenty of space between the children and the screen so that it doesn’t entirely encompass their vision.
- Use other methods of giving information or entertainment such as audio plays or radio, your children will develop their listening skills and also will be able to formulate their own ideas of what or who is in the story in their heads, so using their imagination. My eldest son particularly enjoys a cd about Norse myths and knows a lot of the names of mythical gods and places.
- Play your children different types of music, classical as well as modern. My two year old loves dancing to Shostakovich’s Jazz suite no.2, waltz no.2. The positive effects of music on children’s development has been widely documented.
- Be sure to have lots of other things for your children to do in the absence of screen time; plenty of craft materials, books, pens, paper, paint and try to have an outdoor area such as a garden where they can play. My children tend to want to draw, play with play dough, write stories or read after school hours when a lot of people put the telly on for their children.
- Avoid computer games. I believe there is nothing beneficial about them. They waste time and violence is often the only solution to an on-screen character’s problem 99.9% of the time. Instead look at the computer more as a tool. Show your child that if he/she doesn’t know something then it can be used to find out information.
- For younger children and baby’s provide an environment rich with sensory experience such as heuristic play and treasure baskets. These are easy to find out about and put together and the benefits to a child’s development are enormous often absorbing children’s concentration for huge amounts of time.
- Don’t be afraid to speak your mind politely to others. If you are uncomfortable with a situation then you can change it, that is your power and right as a parent.
- Any changes in children’s habits takes time and commitment from parents but the benefits are really worth it. Also because it takes more time and commitment it really does mean that you will spend more time with your children that would otherwise be lost.
- The best quote I can find to summarise my feelings on this is one by Gabriela Mistral who writes:
“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children…Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow’. His name is ‘Today’.”
Charlotte Stokes is a mother of four, a trained Montessori teacher and a psychology student. She also enjoys knitting and sewing toys and clothes and encouraging a love and understanding of nature in her children. Charlotte also writes at her blog Teeny tiny key.
Thank you Charlotte for taking the time to answer my questions and sharing with us. Charlotte has agreed to answer any questions you may have so please feel free to ask a question in the comments section.