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How much screen time is too much this Christmas?

BLOG: Will you be a Christmas Scrooge this festive season? Yusuf Tamanna offers some seasonal support to parents.

The debate over screen time is one that continues to rage. Parents worry that too much time in front of their laptops or tablets will be detrimental to their kids.

The chances are that many of them will use the two-week break from school to stay logged into their devices, endlessly scrolling through Instagram photos of #Christmas2017 and maintaining Snapchat streaks with their friends.

At the risk of showing my age, I remember the Christmas holidays when I was at school and how I spent a large chunk of time on the family PC, logged into MSN Messenger waiting for the rest of my friends to come online so we could all talk about how bored we were at home.

'They'll be endleslly scrolling through Instagram photos of #Christmas2017'

It’s worth remembering that your child’s only means of communicating with their friends during the holiday may be via WhatsApp, or Facetiming them to see what they’re getting up to.

It’s not just social media that keeps children glued to screens

An unofficial Christmas tradition for some (maybe just my family) is seeing how many times the BBC can get away with showing the same 30 films they do every year. However, this year there may be no BBC at all, especially with Netflix now so popular.

Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Music aren’t just popular with young people, more adults are finding they prefer to watch uninterrupted TV shows and are just as guilty of ‘binge watching’ their own favourite dramas and sitcoms. Christmas is now a bumper screen time for everyone.

I guess what it boils down to is rather than focusing on how much time your child spends using tech during their Christmas break, ask them what they’re using it for.

'Christmas is now bumper screen time for everyone'

Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at London School of Economics (LSE), suggests in the latest edition of Digital Parenting Magazine: ‘Talk with your kids about what they are doing, learning or struggling with, rather than simply telling them to “turn it off”’.

How to set limits

Of course there are limits. You don’t want them staying up until the early hours of the morning glued to their screens, losing out on sleep and missing meals. And there is a conversation to be had around sensible use of tech.  Parent Zone's head of content, Giles Milton, suggests taking an interest in what your child is doing with their tech this Christmas.

'Offer to spend some time with them – whether it's playing video games or watching videos. They may really appreciate your interest more than you might expect (although don’t force them!) The more engaged and respectful you are, the more they will appreciate your involvement.

'When it gets to the point where they have maybe had had enough screen time, make sure you give them some forewarning and the chance to finish their activity. They don’t want to stop halfway through a game level any more than you want to miss the end of your favourite TV show.'

Ultimately, if during the day or early evening you see them tapping away on the iPad or curating playlists on Spotify, don’t let your knee-jerk reaction be that you become the Scrooge that stole their tech this Christmas.

Further reading:

Digital Parenting Issue 6 – New screen time rules, page 26

Children's screen time guidelines too restrictive, according to new research