"Mummy! Get off your phone, I am trying to tell you something!"
The words uttered by my eldest, Ella, nearly 9 years, and let me tell you, there is nothing like your own child telling you off, to make you sit up and listen!
Screen time has become a hot topic in the parenting world, and lets be honest, it makes us 'eye-roll' every time we hear someone mention how much time is too much for our kids to be staring at screens. Screens can be a babysitter, they can give us a well deserved break and they can be a good distraction for our kids. They can educate, they can help and they can pacify.
Now, as a parent and a parenting expert, I am fully aware of the negative impact that our kids being on screens can have, and I do agree, that kids should spend more time off screens then on - perhaps over a period of a week though, not day to day - lets be realistic.
However, when Ella told me off for not paying her attention, a big pang of guilt hit and it really got me thinking. Me being glued to my phone was not quite the role modelling I was wanting to display and I know (because I regularly witness it) that I am not the only parent who would benefit from reducing their own screen time.
While we are not super strict on screen time for the kids, hubby and I do impose boundaries and put a limit of how much time they are allowed each day. This has worked well for us and we feel that the balance is right, but it is dawning on us that it won't be many more years until Ella has a phone, and really, if we want her to stick to boundaries, we need to be doing so too.
Mounting evidence shows that parents who are distracted by their phones and other digital devices, interact less with their kids and parents screen addictions have also been linked to greater behaviour problems in children, including tantrums, withdrawal, sadness and hyperactivity.
It is increasingly difficult for us to disconnect from online distractions, particularly as most of us carry about a mobile device, but as one survey found, a staggering 69% of parents feel addicted to their smartphones and they only spend 24 minutes more per day with their children as they do with their phone!
It occurred to me that I am definitely in that 69% thanks largely to nature of my work, but I confess, I nip on to update and check my work socials and before I know it, I have fallen down an app rabbit hole - clicking on links, scrolling my time away, all of which has actually not been helpful for getting work done, never mind giving the kids my undivided attention!
Popular apps you see, are designed without cues to limit or stop scrolling. In fact, the way you swipe and pause on a screen provides data to the device about your personality, preferences, and current psychological state. This information is then used to keep you looking down instead of engaging in real face time. Sneaky!
When I have been asked for advice on reducing kids screen time, I always start with being a good role model. This is my top tip for many behaviours that you want to see from your children, and screen time should be no different. As parents, it is our duty to instil good habits, but quite rightly, why should there be one rule for us and one for our kids?
Demonstrating healthy habits ourselves, will ensure that our kids develop healthy habits too, and here are a few ways to do that - all of which I have been doing myself and seeing a positive difference.
'Chunk' your time for emails and social media and turn off your notifications. Set chunks of time throughout the day to avoid falling down that rabbit hole.
Turn off screens when they are not in use - always a pet peeve of mine, but if you want some background noise, put the radio on instead.
Keep phones away from the dinner table and engage in conversation instead.
When your child is after your attention, put your phone down and actively engage with them.
Try to keep phones out of the bedroom.
Have a 'cut off' time for phone use in the evenings and switch it off.
Keep your phone in a different room when you are with your kids, to help stop you from checking it every 2 minutes.
Leave the house without it when you can.