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Screening Fatherhood: How Much Screen Time Is Enough?

As a new dad, I can vouch for the fact that time spent with the latest addition to the family is time well spent. But, I found I could get a little distracted sometimes, as we all do now and then.

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear about exposing children to new media and devices. But, the secret is, like a lot of things in life, to keep it all in moderation.

We all know, for instance, that physical activity is vital for a healthy child’s growth and development, and that it doesn’t seem far-fetched to assume too much screen time is likely to be at the cost of play time.

Periods spent in front of the TV or even behind a tablet, means the child is not crawling, walking or running, when they should be.

But, when it’s all kept in check, screen usage for the little ones can be managed to not only curtail the negatives of over-use, but can help promote healthy physical and emotional growth of the child.

So how much is okay?

The short answer is: the jury is still largely out. The growth of technology and digital media has just been so mind-blowingly fast and expansive, that the data doesn’t give us any solid evidence just yet.

However, there are attempts to provide a substantial guideline, but even these can be hard to keep up with as they often change from one day to the next.

So, here are the guidelines I set myself as a dad, to help me form positive parenting habits when it comes to new media:

  1. I tried not to expose my kids when under 18 months of age to media (other than phone based apps like video chat while you’re away, for instance)
  2. I made sure all screen time is spent with a parent or guardian, and the child was not alone with the device
  3. I didn’t use this time to get my child settled, or to calm her down
  4. When my girl was between two and five, screen time was limited no more than one hour a day, and, again, that was with a parent or guardian
  5. I tried to ensure screen time was not in place of important stuff like sleeping or eating
  6. I set aside places in the house and times where/during which screens are off-limits, for instance dinner time, in the toilet or just before heading off to bed
  7. And most importantly, I began to secure all my devices in our family vehicles—did you know when they’re not probably positioned in a mount, there’s the the potential for them to become flying hazards during drives? This was something I remained very aware of.

How I screened my parenting

For me as a dad, the message is really this: depending on your child’s age, some screen time is fine, as long as it’s still spent as dad-time. The bottom line is to not rely on media or get too lazy with it.

One thing I was pretty strict on (my daughter is a little older now) was to put screens away or in a closable space after use.

For instance, portable screens can go in a drawer or a cupboard that isn’t accessible to little hands, and the TV/DVD can be placed in a cabinet with doors. You’ll find all these electronics don’t then become a constant temptation to your whole family in general.

I also found I had to be disciplined about my own screen time. I figured If my little one saw me constantly buried deep in Facebook or work emails, it’s likely she’d try to follow suit and attempt to mimic me when she had the chance. Keeping the boundaries around how I used my own gadgets was challenging at times, but worth it.

Screens are here to stay, and so are your kids. Working out how they co-exist all comes down to balance, discipline and a little bit of education. And in the end, it’s all worth it.