How much screen time is too much for children?

Sue Jordan explores the rise in "iSitters" with Gary Vaynerchuk

There’s no denying that technology has become a large part of parenting these days. Whether it’s handing a smaller child a tablet for a moments peace or older children spending their time on phones and consoles, there’s a consistent worry that we’re relying too heavily on ‘iSitters’. How much screen time is too much though, asks Sue Jordan. 

It can be hard to strike a balance. My sister has 5 little ones under nine and has resisted all temptation to give her children tablets or iPads, preferring instead to take to the road on mini (and maxi) adventures; though TV is still available to them. Personally speaking with children of 19 and 20 now, I didn’t have to make that choice but have been somewhat laissez faire in their screen usage as they grew. That’s worked very well for us, with my website thriving, my eldest being a contributor and my youngest streaming to Youtube and building his online career too. In Ireland it’s difficult to see how we measure up to the norm, there are no guidelines as yet, nor published studies on the effect of screen time for children growing in a digital age.

The Early Childhood Ireland screen survey on  of 332 parents from around the country regarding screen time and technology use by children in the home gives us some insight into the behaviours of Irish children and their parents surrounding screen time.

  • Technology is now a very normal part of the Irish household with 92% of parents reporting owning a TV, 89% report having access to high-speed broadband, 77% have a tablet and 92% have a smart phone.
  • 66% of parents believe it is OK for a young child to use technology freely.
  • 20% feel that smart phones make parenting easier.
  • 75% of parents believe that technology has educational and other benefits for young children.
  • 72% believe that the purpose of their child watching TV is relaxation.
  • 48% of parents notice a negative change in their child’s behaviour after using technology, describing that behaviour as ‘angry’, ‘moody’, ‘tired’, ‘emotional’, ‘argumentative’, ‘agitated’, ‘challenging’.
  • 85% of children under 2 years of age have been exposed to TV or DVDs.
  • 63% of parents have never received information on the use of media or technology in the home.
  • 57% have never received advice on the amount of time a young child should spend engaged in screen based activities.

With these stats in mind I was thrilled to get the chance to speak with one of the world’s best known social media moguls, Gary Vaynerchuk. Renowned entrepreneur, investor and public speaker, Gary was in Dublin as keynote speaker for the Leading Social summit, hosted by Jamie White. I’ve followed Gary for quite some time and what I admire most is that he doesn’t mince his words. With two young children of his own at home I asked Gary what he thinks about children, both young and old using screen time and whether he thinks we should be limiting their exposure to technology. Here is what he had to say:

"I don’t think kids have too much screen time right now and here’s my reasoning, these are the times we live in and there’s been a cultural shift. Speaking for me, I refuse to limit or restrict hours on a screen for my children because that prepares them for the world we’re in now and the world that’s going to exist. We’re talking about evolution.

Children now are growing up with technology, with screen time. We are moving into a futuristic world. With the changing world, I want to make sure my kids are part of these cultural shifts. I want them to understand the technology they are going to be faced with daily. A lot of their world is going to be based in technology, how they communicate, their school, their work, and their basic interactions; of course I want them to be skilled and especially be able for that.

Kids that have restrictions put on them surrounding screens, say an hour on the iPad or a couple of hours at the weekend; that causes them to overvalue that time. When they are making their own rules, they’re not going to know where the threshold is, where their limits are and that’s when you have problems.

I know there’s the tendency to worry about outside activities, ‘why aren’t these kids playing outside’ but what were they doing outside? If you’re told to go outside, what are you doing? Are you engaging, interacting? When your Mom told you to ‘Play outside’ what were you doing, think about it. Kicking ball, sitting on a swing, who were you interacting with? What did that do for you?

If your kid really wants to go outside to do an outside activity or meet up with friends, they will go outside. Technology does not remove those options. Kids these days have a much wider group of friends to meet up with and do activities and why is that? Technology.

Kids can learn anything they want from Wikipedia and talk to other kids from around the world whenever they want, thanks to screen time. Keep up with friends they’ve met through Facebook, test their skill against millions of others through online games. Think about young Johnny in rural Ireland twenty, thirty years ago. Who was he socialising with? If he wanted to talk to friends but didn’t have access to transport, maybe there just weren’t kids his age living locally – he was stuck. Today he can engage with anyone. His world has changed. He’s socialising, engaging, he’s learning. We’re opening worlds. We’re creating passionate kids with interests and curiosity.

Constantly judging peoples’ escapism, even kids’ escapism is old people talk for an old people problem. When I was a kid it was Zelda, I was told I spent too much time and attention on Zelda or technology or just not where my Mom thought my attention should be. But here’s the thing, you can’t force kids’ attention. I got a taste for technology that helped me. Kids now have such an advantage, they’re starting younger; they’re growing up with this. They have us beat.

Bottom line is, I don’t limit the time my kids spend with screens and have no intention of doing that in the future but here’s the thing, I don’t pertain to tell anyone else how to parent; that’s not my place. We do what works for us and you should do the same."