Listen: Dr Justin Coulson chats to Emma Mullings about kids and “screen time”.
Screens are increasingly being used by parents to calm down upset children, but we need to find alternatives, said parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson.
While every parent has times they will need calm the kids down by letting them watch a video or playing an ipad game, it shouldn’t become an ingrained habit.
“I’m not going to be so unrealistic as to say that we should never use screens to pacify our kids,” he said. “Sometimes we can’t send them out to play in the street because we live on a busy street. Or we can’t send them out to play in the yard because we live in a town house or a block of units.
“But it’s not a good way to cope with our difficulties. We actually need to deal with difficulties in more productive, positive ways.”
Low Income Families More Likely To Use Screens To Pacify Kids
New research shows that screens – whether smartphones, iPads, laptops or TVs – are especially being used as a pacificier by parents in lower socio-economic homes.
“This is a challenge because typically if you’ve got less money you’re also likely to have had a little less education,” Dr Coulson said, “and the research shows that kids who come from homes where parents aren’t earning much and haven’t got a lot of education may not be getting the same kinds of opportunities.
“That makes sense but by sticking them in front of the screen, it doesn’t enhance their opportunities any more.
“We need to try to help all parents be aware of alternative options.”
Why Are You Using A Screen? Check Your Motivation
Dr Coulson advises that when parents are considering sitting their kids in front of a TV or ipad for a couple of hours, they should first ask themselves the following:
- How often am I doing this?
- Why am I doing this?
- What are are the alternatives?
If screens are being used as a way to cope with or calm down tantrums or challenging emotional situations, they’re probably being misused.
“We sometimes do this as adults too,” he said. “We’re in a bad mood, we’re feeling lousy, we’ve just had a disagreement, and we go and find somewhere quiet and pull out our phone and stare at it and lose ourselves in it.”
He said it’s an unhealthy solution, as the emotion of the situation doesn’t get dealt with properly.
Give Your Children Connection And Emotional Support
In these scenarios, children really need to connect with their parents, not disconnect.
“When our kids are going a bit bonkers, we tend to get mad at them or ignore them, but it’s really important that we look at them and say “I need to connect with you now, you’re actually needing some attention, focus and love”,” Dr Coulson said.
“So in spite of the fact that we’ve got so much going on, things boiling on the stove, an email that has to be replied to or a deadline that’s looming, sometimes if we just put everything down for five minutes and spend time with our kids, they’ll calm down.
“Then we can get on with what we’ve got to: the “important stuff”. And when I say that I mean that the kids really are the most important thing. We kind of forget that.”
Have Healthy Activities Ready To Go
By setting up fun activities ahead of time that you can give your children in a tense moment, you’ll be less likely to opt for screen-time as a pacifier.
Have some simple activities available for them that don’t involve screens,” Dr Coulson said. “This requires us to be a little bit proactive and thoughtful ahead of time. We just need to be a little bit creative about what we can give them to do.”
He suggested absorbing activities as healthy alternatives to screens, such as:
- Water play or Play-dough on the back verandah.
- Simple craft and art activities.
- Favourite books and magazines – keep them stored in easily accessible places.