We’re Obsessed With Our Kids' Screentime – So Why Don’t We Limit Our Own?

Hypocritical parenting, or what?

Tidy your bedroom, do your homework, stop making so much noise – and get offline! If you’ve not said at least one of these in the past 24 hours, are you even a parent?

We are the halo-bearing, sanctimonious bestowers of rules and number one on the list is NO MORE SCREENS!

But... wait. There’s a problem, and it’s even more glaring than the glow of Facebook in the darkness of the bedroom when you’re trying – and failing – to go to sleep.

We are addicted to worrying about how much time our kids are spending looking at phones, tablets, TVs and computers. So why aren’t we more bothered about what we’re doing?

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I can’t count the amount of time I’ve spent scrolling through articles and news pieces and even academic journals about the advised number of hours kids should spend... scrolling.

And there’s always something new to panic about. Headlines warn of the link between too much time spent on social media and depression, particularly in teenage girls, but then simultaneously reassure us “not to worry too much” about the amount of time children spend online.

The most useful advice I’ve seen recently is to turn gadgets off an hour before bedtime to avoid disrupting sleep, but these guidelines are new, and not entirely consistent – experts admit that technology can pose a risk, but can also be a valuable tool for children to explore the world.

So, how are we supposed to know what’s best for our kids? We trust our instincts, I suppose – and mine tell me that more than an hour of staring at a screen indoors makes my kids grumpy, irritable and much more likely to engage in random acts of violence (by which I mean firing the foam crossbow capsules they got for Christmas at each other at increasingly close range).

But am I really teaching them to “do as I do” – or “do as I don’t do”?

I’ve told my daughter she needs to stop watching ‘Horrible Histories’ (“just one more, Mummy, it’s the really funny one about the plague”) and play outside in the garden while settling down to read that piece in ‘Granta’ I’ve had bookmarked on my iPhone for weeks.

I’ve preached to both of my children about how mindlessly watching ‘Peppa Pig’ is “boring” and that they should really be doing something “more creative”... while mindlessly browsing through Twitter.

Yet screens help me catch up on the sleep I’ve been deprived of for years. If my two-year-old wakes at 5am, I’ll pass him my phone to watch ‘Paw Patrol’ for the sake of half an hour’s fitful extra dozing.

And while I stop short of letting them watch the iPad at the dinner table, I do plonk them in front of the virtual babysitter – the TV – every morning before school to eat breakfast, while I rush around having a shower, getting dressed, making coffee (and posting on Instagram).

It’s a whirlwind of hypocrisy.

“Am I really teaching them to 'do as I do' – or 'do as I don’t do'?"”

I put it down to ‘FOMO’ – the fear of missing out on the news, important work emails, my friends, on births and engagements and new job announcements.

But a recent sleep survey showed that only 24% of British adults are getting the recommended 7-8 hours sleep a night and 46% admit to using social media in bed.

My dissonant approach to what I’m saying and the example I’m setting – telling my children to cut down on screen use, with my phone permanently in my right hand – is confusing.

I need to find a way to set a better example. I might have to Google some tips.