Reining in children’s use of screens is not easy. Computer games and social media are designed to be addictive. I have four children – aged 19 to 28 – who are, thankfully, beyond that phase as I found these battles one of the most exasperating things about being a parent.
And it is common: 36 per cent of parents say they argue about screens on a daily basis. So many will recognise Kirstie Allsopp’s feelings of frustration, after she revealed earlier this month she had ‘smashed’ her sons’ iPads because they refused to stop playing games such as Fortnite and PUBG. She told Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine show that she banged their devices against the table leg because her sons kept pushing the rules. My husband Michael and I once got so exasperated at our son’s PlayStation habit that we locked the console in the boot of the car only to find (after a freezing night) it never worked again.
Prolonged time spent on screens – sometimes around seven hours a day – means children miss out on fresh air, exercise and real-life social interaction. The majority of them I see in my surgery are playing on a phone; some barely look up. It keeps them occupied but they miss out on communication and learning to sit quietly, without distraction. A recent scientific study recommends cutting screen time to a maximum two hours a day to reduce the risk of childhood obesity.
So what can you do about excess screen use? Switch off the wi-fi? Lock up all devices?
Child psychiatrist Professor Stephen Scott offers this advice:
1. Be clear about limits. Allow two- to six-year-olds a maximum usage time of one hour a day, ideally with a parent involved. For ages six and older, stick to less than two hours. Those younger than 18 months should not be allowed to use computers or iPhones. Keep screens out of the bedroom and avoid at night to prevent children being overstimulated before sleep.
2. Reinforce the idea of screen-time management rather than aimless watching. Quality is more important than time spent.
3. Remember, they are watching your screen use – children learn by example.
4. Be consistent and assertive in enforcing rules and consequences, even if they protest.
5. Don’t demonise it. Enjoy screen time together as well as offline activities.
And perhaps download screentimelabs.com, an app that puts you in control of your child’s phone from your phone, allowing you to set daily time limits and ‘press pause’ when it is time for tea and they don’t appear to have heard you. This is so much better than taking away the device, hiding it then losing it – or whacking it on the table leg.
How’s your hearing? It does deteriorate as we get older, so if you’re over 60 it’s worth having a free hearing test at Boots. You can book online at bootshearing.com or call 0345 415 479.
Multivitamins: the myth debunked
Many of us take multivitamins as an insurance policy, to keep ourselves healthy or to offset a bad diet. But a major study published this year found no reduction in cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke or premature death from healthy people taking multivitamins. Other studies looking at whether multivitamins could reduce cancer risk were inconclusive.
Some people can benefit from taking multivitamins, notably the elderly, pregnant women and people on exclusion diets such as vegetarians and vegans. However, most people could be wasting their money. I prefer to eat real food, where the quality of the nutrients is at its unprocessed best.
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