It’s official. Everyone has been spending more time on their screens since lockdown restrictions were introduced.
A report from Ofcom in April 2020 found the average time most UK adults spent online each day rose by at least half an hour compared to 2019.
We don’t have similar data about how much time children and teens have been spending online over the past year yet. But considering many have been using their devices for remote learning and chatting with friends, my best guess is screen time has increased dramatically for them too.
This begs the question: should parents feel guilty about how much time their kids are spending staring at screens? The short answer is no.
Experts have been telling us that judging how children use technology is about much more than time spent on screens for years. Even vocal advocates for reducing tech time have changed their views recently too.
With that in mind, I think we can all agree the last thing both parents and kids need right now is strict rules and unrealistic expectations – we’re all doing our best to make it through a pandemic, remember. So, instead, let’s aim for a bit more balance.
Talk about active and passive tech time
Forget about tech time limits. What your kids are using their devices for is more important.
Studies show actively using screens – like picking up a device to learn, play a game or create something – is better for general well-being than passively scrolling through social media or watching video after video on YouTube or TikTok.
One way to help children spot the difference is to label these two types of online activities together. You could go one step further and ask how they feel when they’ve created something on their tablet compared to how they feel after they’ve watched videos back-to-back for half an hour. We could all do with switching-on to how our tech habits make us feel – the sooner kids can learn that the better.
Encourage kids to connect with their friends
Kids are cut off from their routines, school days and friends. If they want to spend more time than usual on video calls, singing duets on Smule, creating videos for TikTok, or just sending messages, let them.
If you cut down the time they spend interacting with friends when their in-person interactions are at an all-time low, you risk isolating them. Studies have shown that too much time on tech can have a negative effect on the well-being of teens, but take it away completely and they can feel even worse – this is known as the Goldilocks hypothesis.
Agree on ‘texpectations’ as a family
The way you and everyone else in your family uses tech is important. For example, you can’t expect your youngest to stop using their phone if your eldest is on theirs all day long and the same applies to your scrolling habits too. After all, research has found that a parent’s use of screens is often directly correlated with how their children use theirs.
But you don’t need to lock your phone away to set a good example. Instead, studies have shown that to avoid conflict around tech use – whether you’re a family of two or ten – expectations need to be shared by everyone.
Talk about what rules (if any) apply across the whole family, like what tech time is important and what can wait until after dinner? These honest conversations make everyone feel equal and valued. They also build trust and ownership around tech habits too.
Adjust your screen time vs. family time mindset
More than anything, let go of the guilt and unrealistic expectations about what ‘good’ family time should look like – this is worth reminding yourself regularly, but especially right now. Banish screens, impose too many rules and set strict screen-free standards and you miss out on all the connection, fun, joy and play they can bring your kids too. You don’t have to push screens away to keep your family close – promise.
Best Parenting Books
How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids, By Carla Naumburg PhD
Pragmatic about helping you work through your sh*t to be a more present and positive parent. Increasingly relevant to today's parents, who are more overloaded, overwhelmed, and overworked than ever before, Carla Naumburg has the antidote to the feelings of complete despair and rage. With some humour too…
There's No Such Thing As 'Naughty', By Kate Silverton
This Sunday Times Bestseller details the secret to tackling tantrums, tears and laying the foundations for your child's mental health. In There's No Such Thing As 'Naughty', mum to two young children, journalist and children's mental health advocate Kate Silverton shares her groundbreaking new approach to parenting under-fives that helps to make family life a breeze!
How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes, By Melinda Wenner Moyer
As Melinda's children grew, she found that one huge area was ignored in the realm of parenting advice: how do we make sure our kids don't grow up to be assholes? How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes is a researched, evidence-based guide that provides a fresh, often surprising perspective on parenting issues, from toddlerhood through the teenage years.
Why Did No One Tell Me?: How to Protect Heal and Nurture Your Body Through Motherhood
For too long, women have been told that debilitating conditions following pregnancy are normal and something they have to just put up with. Emma Brockwell is on a mission to change this. In this guide, Emma combines her expertise as a specialist women's health physiotherapist with personal experience to create a warm and informative handbook to help pregnant women and new mums take control and care for their changing bodies. Find out how to:
The Gentle Discipline Book, By Sarah Ockwell-Smith
In The Gentle Discipline Book, Sarah Ockwell-Smith debunks many commonly held beliefs about punishment and motivation and provides an alternative approach that will empower you to discipline your child in an effective way and with respect. Gentle discipline is not about mollycoddling your child or being a pushover - it means understanding your child, having realistic expectations of them, and responding to their misbehaviour appropriately. It focuses on teaching and learning, not punishment or rewarding.
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame
No Bad Kids is a collection of Janet's most popular and widely read articles pertaining to common toddler behaviours and how respectful parenting practices can be applied to benefit both parents and children. It covers such common topics as punishment, cooperation, boundaries, testing, tantrums, hitting, and more.
When The World Feels Like A Scary Place, By Abigail Gewirtz
This book by prominent child psychologist Dr Abi Gewirtz, brings solutions to a problem that is only going to get worse - how bad things happening in the world affect our children, and how we can raise engaged and confident kids in spite of them. Through conversation scripts, talking points, prompts and insightful asides, When the World Feels Like a Scary Place is an indispensable guide to talking to our kids about the big things that worry them - making us calmer parents with more resilient children.
Queen Bees and Wannabes
A revised and updated version of Rosalind Wiseman's groundbreaking book for a new generation of girls. Packed with insights about technology's impact on Girl World and enlivened with the experiences of girls, boys, and parents, the book that inspired the hit movie Mean Girls (YES REALLY) offers concrete strategies to help you empower your daughter to be socially competent and treat herself with dignity.
How Toddlers Thrive, By Tovah P. Klein
Leading toddler expert Dr Tovah P. Klein reveals why age two to five is the most crucial time for a child's brain development and how parents can harness this period to have a lifelong positive effect on their children's lives. With chapters on everyday routines, tantrums, managing change and avoiding toddler shaming, this smart and useful guide promises to inspire you to be a better parent. Sarah Jessica Parker says: 'Tovah taught me how to resist the temptation to fix everything, and instead give my children the opportunity to learn how to problem-solve for themselves.'
The Montessori Toddler
This book promises to not only help you become a more effective parent but actually change how you see your children. Written by Montessori educator Simone Davies, this book shows you how to bring the educational values of a Montessori classroom into your home-while
Parenting The Sh*t Out Of Life
From Grazia columnist Anna Whitehouse aka Mother Pukka and Matt Farquharson aka Papa Pukka, comes the Sunday Times bestselling account of parenting told from both perspectives, and a handy guide (kind of) on how to raise a small human. The must-read for all parents and parents-to-be - and possibly the best (or worst) baby shower gift you could ever give a prospective mum or dad...
What Mummy Makes
Promising 130 recipes that will suit six-month-olds AND the rest of the family, this book could save you a lot of hassle when it comes to dinnertime…
Sex, Likes And Social Media: Talking To Our Teens In The Digital Age, By Deana Puccio And Allison Havey
Based on their professional work with young people, parents and teachers – and their experiences with their own children – Deana Puccio and Allison Havey give you the tools to talk to children who are digital natives with experiences wildly different from their parents'.
I Am Not Your Baby Mother
A thought-provoking, urgent and inspirational guide to life as a Black mother. It explores the various stages between pregnancy and waving your child off at the gates of primary school while facing hurdles such as white privilege, racial micro-aggression and unconscious bias at every point. Candice does so with her trademark sense of humour and refreshing straight-talking, and the result is a call-to-arms that will allow mums like her to take control, scrapping the parenting rulebook to mother their own way.
The Calm And Happy Toddler, By Dr Rebecca Chicot
You think a newborn is the hard bit… and then you meet your little toddler. This book promises to help you, gently, through tantrums, night-waking, potty-training and all the fun stuff that goes with having a toddler. Dr Rebecca Chicot has a PhD in Parenting and Child Development from Cambridge University.
How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen
Tried and tested communication strategies to survive - and thrive - with kids ages 2-7. Users have rated this book for having a helpful toolbox of tricks that are easy to understand and carry out.
Calm Parents, Happy Kids: The Secrets Of Stress-Free Parenting, By Dr Laura Markham
Most parenting books focus on changing a child's behaviour, but this book says the truth is that children only change when their relationship with their parents changes. In Calm Parents, Happy Kids, Dr Laura Markham introduces an approach to parenting that eliminates threats, power struggles and manipulation, in favour of setting limits with empathy and communication. Bringing together the latest research in brain development with a focus on emotional awareness (for both parents and children), it will appeal to all parents who don't want to force their children into compliance and lose their temper, but want to keep calm and help their children want to behave.
15-Minute Parenting 0-7 Years: Quick And Easy Ways To Connect With Your Child, By Joanna Fortune
This also comes in a version for 8-12-year-olds and posits that just 15 minutes of mindful playtime each day in your and your child's routine could change behaviour. Created with busy parents in mind, psychotherapist and parenting expert Joanna Fortune has devised a simple but effective method to build quality playful time together at home, structured around 15-minute games that can be easily incorporated into your existing daily routine.
The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play
With a foreword written by Fearne Cotton and written by Russell Brand's wife and mother to his two children, this book has star ratings. But it's also hugely useful and full of games and tips to keep children preoccupied in ways that don't involve screens, which everyone knows is very much half the battle of parenthood...
French Children Don't Throw Food
Part travel book and autobiography, this book shares journalist Pamela's parenting tips she learned from living in France. And, for added glam, it's set to be made into a film, starring Anne Hathaway...
The Whole-Brain Child
Designed to help children of different ages, this pioneering, practical book for parents, neuroscientist Daniel J. Siegel and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson explain the new science of how a child's brain is wired and how it matures. Different parts of a child's brain develop at different speeds and understanding these differences can help you turn any outburst, argument, or fear into a chance to integrate your child's brain and raise calmer, happier children.
The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did), By Philippa Perry
Philippa Perry has been a psychotherapist for the past twenty years. She lives in London with her husband the artist Grayson Perry, and they have a grown-up daughter, Flo. Billed as a book for parents and children (and those who aren't yet parents), this book comprehensively covers lots of different stages of life and has a host of celebrity fans from Nigella Lawson to Fearne Cotton.
Your Baby Week By Week
The book to shove in your pregnant friend's hands and tell them to only read week by week. A helpful manual of things your baby might and could be doing, week by week. As with all books, best taken with a dose of salt too – use the helpful bits, ignore the unhelpful/ones you can't quite face (i.e. the sleep bits…)
Nobody Told Me
If it's weaning or sleep-training schedules you're looking for, this might not help exactly, but this book of poetry will make you smile. And probably nod your head a lot. And sometimes cry, and sometimes feel understood. Which goes much further than you'd think.
The Second Baby Book, By Sarah Ockwell-Smith
This guide examines the specific issues that can arise with a second pregnancy and birth. From the common concerns about siblings, such as how to prepare your firstborn for what's to come, to how to cope with the practicalities of life with two young children. And the feelings parents are likely to experience, too - because it's easy to forget about this part.
Between: A guide for parents of eight to thirteen-year-olds
Raising a teenager can leave you feeling like a parenting beginner all over again. Children in the 'between' stage change daily, leaving parents struggling to understand the child they once thought they knew. In Between by parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith uses biology, psychology and sociology of adolescence to give readers practical parenting advice that you can use to help your child through the tricky transition from childhood to adulthood.
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk
Parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish provide effective step-by-step techniques to help you improve and enrich your relationships with your children. Read this guide to learn how to break a pattern of arguments, cope with your child's negative feelings, engage your child's co-operation, set clear limits, express your anger without being hurtful and resolve family conflicts peacefully.
The Danish Way Of Parenting
What makes Denmark the happiest country in the world, and how do Danish parents raise happy, confident, successful kids, year after year? This upbeat and practical guide reveals the six essential principles that have been working for parents in Denmark for decades:
Baby Knows Best
Baby Knows Best is a comprehensive guide that shows parents how to respond to their babies' cues and signals; how to develop healthy sleep habits, why babies need uninterrupted playtime and how to set clear consistent limits. After reading as parents you will be more relaxed and also have more confident, self-reliant children.
Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys
Calmer Easier Happier Boys sees parenting expert Noel Janis-Norton explains simple strategies for the unique challenges of raising motivated, cooperative and confident boys. Using the stellar techniques Noel has developed over many years of working with families, parents can get back in charge. Living with boys can become calmer, easier and happier.