It’s not the first time he’s stuck his neck out to worry parents about their children’s screen habits (among other things), but ‘leading psychologist’ Aric Sigman is back in the news this week with his latest call for kids to stop spending quite so much time goggling at the tellybox, surfing the t’interweb, and clicking on their consoles. In short, he’s urging parents (again) to impose far stricter limits on screen time.
I’m not an expert (as I think I MAY have mentioned), so I’m not going to question the science behind Dr Sigman’s findings (although I will just cheekily point out that a number of people have already done just that: here, for example, and also here).
However, as the mother of two little girls who enjoy a range of modern entertainment and digital media, I must take this fella to task for his tendency to make anxious parents feel like utter shit for allowing their offspring within two foot of a remote control. And I’d like, please, some reassurance that my daughters’ fairly moderate media habits are not going to turn them into overweight zombies with attention deficits, psychological difficulties, and Wii tennis elbow.
Look, of COURSE children need some limits to be applied to the amount of time they spend in front of screens. If there are kids out there who really do spend six hours or more of their day flicking from their PlayStation to their smartphone with just small breaks in between in which to feed their Moshi Monsters, then that’s a bit of a worry and their parents really do need a bit of a nudge about it.
But the rest of us – the people who don’t need the Ministry of the Bleedin’ Obvious to inform us that if kids are glued to the tellybox or the X-box for many, many hours at a time, it’s not going to be that good for them because they won’t have a chance to do all that other stuff necessary for good health and development like imbibing fresh air, moving around in an active fashion, engaging in human interaction with their peers and parents, flicking through the pages of an actual book or picking up the old Crayolas and creating a non-virtual work of art – could really do without the guilt trip on this.
We have to be realistic. Modern media are absolutely here to stay – they loom large in all our lives, not just our kids’. And I don’t think Sigman’s suggested guidelines are very helpful: no screens at all for the under-threes (the man wants to ENTIRELY deny toddlers a daily Peppa Pig fix? FFS!), half an hour a day for those aged three to seven; an hour for the 7-12s; an hour and a half if you’re 12-15, and two hours tops once you reach the age of consent.
I would struggle to impose these kind of screen limits on my kids, to be honest. An earlier recommended guideline (I forget who issued it) of two hours a day seems reasonable and it’s what we try to stick with round here. (Although – to be frank – it goes out the window at weekends, when up to four hours in total of telly +computer + console use has certainly been known.) I don’t fret about it because in a typical week, they also fit in lots of other things that don’t involve a screen: five days at school and the walk there and back, for starters, a swim and bike ride, meals taken at the dining room table, a fair bit of conversing with other humans, some reading of books and some seeing of friends. It’s all about balance, innit?
And hey, just for a change, instead of wringing our hands about the media habits of modern kids, how about celebrating them, instead?
How about a little woop for the fact that when my daughters get in from school, dump their bags, and reach for the remote, it’s because the schedules are packed full of marvellous (though admittedly oft-repeated) programmes like Horrible Histories and 12 Again, and Wolfblood? (And ok – I’ve never watched Wolfblood myself I’ve got to admit, but I’m reliably informed that it is AWESOME…)
How about a positive nod to the fact that my eight-year-old can already find her way round a mouse, a keyboard, and a website (useful skills for the future, in a world where most jobs require you to use a computer, no?) And that – perhaps less usefully for the future, but impressively, nevertheless – she can whop the arse off most of her mates on a Mario Kart circuit?
Is it not truly cool that my 11-year-old has a whole world of information at her fingertips to aid her in completing her homework? And fantastic that, thanks to You Tube, both girls have been able to sit down and enjoy every episode of the otherwise defunct Paddington Bear ever made? How about the sheer joy of quality family time spent sitting down to watch a good movie together – or even a bit of back to back Saturday night drivel? Something to give three cheers for, surely?
I completely agree that we need to keep a close eye on our kids in this terrifying and potentially toxic modern world we live in. Some screen limits should be applied – I have no argument with that.
But please Sigman, will you just chillaxe a bit on the whole issue? Don’t make parents feel bad for letting their kids do something that, often, is actually good for them.
MAIN IMAGE: Ben Smith