My nine-year-old is playing Minecraft on my laptop and my four-year-old is watching Princess & the Frog on the iPad. Later, they'll probably swap - Joe will play games on the CBeebies website and Harry will have a go on whatever app he's into at the moment or Harry may switch to his DS. But it's pretty likely that they'll be in front of screens for most of the day. As will I. I'm writing this on a screen and, when I've finished, I'll make myself a cup of tea and sit down to read a book... on my Kindle.
Screen time seems to be something parents are worried about. I see a lot of articles concerned that our children are "addicted to screens" but... aren't we all?
Why prevent our children from doing something that we do ourselves all the time?
Particularly when we know they'll be using screens in the future - my teenage nephews' homework is done online. I'm fairly sure whatever careers my boys end up doing will be online. Trying to limit screen time seemed a bit pointless to me so, about a year ago, I stopped.
My sons are allowed as much screen time - including TV and various consoles - as they like. And they like a LOT. But they also moderate themselves. They know when they've had enough and will just go off and find something else to do.
Author Lisa Jewell doesn't set screen limits for her two daughters either. "If they're in the mood to play they'll play. If they're feeling lazy and tired they'll watch TV," she says. "I just let them mooch about at their own pace."
I thought that Lisa and I were unusual, but when I asked my friends (on Facebook, naturally) about this subject, I was surprised to find hardly any limits at all, even in the strictest families. The main restrictions in place are no screens before school and/or during meals, but otherwise most of them were pretty relaxed.
Caro Moses doesn't limit screen time, but tries to encourage her children to do other things. "I suggest alternative activities and hope they'll bite," she says. "Or sometimes I won't let them watch TV until they've been for a walk." But Caro has also noticed her young daughter doesn't need much policing. "I find that she gets bored after a reasonable amount of time, but my step children are older and are VERY hard to drag away from screens."
"I used to have a rule about no screens an hour before bedtime because my daughter was having a lot of trouble getting off to sleep," Siobhan O'Neill says. "That seems to be less of a problem now. Generally I permit gaming once homework and reading is done, but I don't often let it go on for very long."
"I don't have a strict limit, but try to make sure we don't overdo it," George Kirk says. "TV is easiest, they soon get bored of watching that and go and do something else. It's video games that I have to be more careful about. I try to keep it to an hour but when Daddy plays for two or three hours at the weekend it gets hard!"
I've never regretted giving up the limits. I think setting your own limits and scheduling your own time is a good skill for Harry and Joe to learn. And that aside, they actually learn a lot from the games they play (and, to a lesser extent, the TV shows they watch). Harry's reading has improved thanks to Pokemon and Joe is actually learning to read via a website. In fact, there's a fair amount of research to suggest that gaming is not only not bad for us, but actively good for us. Yes, even Minecraft, which is being used internationally as an educational tool, with a school in Stockholm actually making it compulsory for 13-year-old students.
Excessive screen time can be a problem, but, like most things, it's fine in moderation and in my experience, when you don't set limits for your children, moderation is exactly what you get.
What do you do?