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Our Favourite Reasons Not to Rely on a "Digital Nanny"

Worried about how much time your child spends in front of screens?


 Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Oxford, looks at the importance of tech-free time and how to teach a child to develop healthy tech habits

Smartphones have become so ingrained in daily life, even for our children. With apps and games available at the touch of a screen, it can be easy to turn to mobile technology and use it as a 'digital nanny' to provide a child with access to quick and often free entertainment.

As the overuse of smartphones and tablets can have an impact on the development of children, it is important to be mindful of the amount of time they spend on them. Too much time with devices can take away a child's opportunities to socialise in person and disrupt their emotional development. It can also alter their sense of reality, make them believe they can exercise control at the tap of a key and think that they can receive instant gratification in everything they do.

Screen time also stimulates the 'reward centre' in a child's brain, meaning that a child will want to devote more and more of their time and attention to the digital world rather than reality. It is important for you to prevent this from getting out of control, and give a child every opportunity to be active, investigate life in the real world and get plenty of social interaction. 

Limit screen time to one hour a day

Specialists recommend that children under five should spend no more than one hour a day in front of a screen, and children under two shouldn't view them at all. These years are particularly important for developing non-verbal skills, which children can miss out on if interaction is forsaken for the digital world. When a child is using a smartphone or tablet, make sure that this time doesn't disrupt their sleep or physical activity.

No devices at dinner

Letting a child watch the iPad or the TV at meal times may keep them happy at the table. However, it discourages them from getting involved in conversations and makes it seem that disengaging from everything and everyone around them is okay.

The dinner table can be a great place to encourage and embrace conversation, giving a child the opportunity to develop important social skills. Make sure no-one brings their phones to the table, and instead take the time to chat openly, listen to one another and make each other laugh.  

Lead by example

Your own phone use can also interfere with a child's social skills, as it takes away your opportunities to interact with them.  

By cutting down on your own phone usage, you have more opportunities to engage in conversations, games and activities. As children copy adult behaviour, it can also help a child to learn boundaries and better tech habits, as they see you placing less emphasis on your phone and wanting to spend less time in front of a screen. 

Introduce tech-free times and zones

Children need boundaries when it comes to technology so it's a good idea to introduce tech-free times throughout the day. Use these stretches to play games, go for a walk or even get involved in an activity such as arts and crafts. Also, embrace boredom, as this can spark creativity and productivity in a child. Downtime can cause a child's imagination to soar and gives them the chance to learn how to structure their own time and take charge themselves. 

Also introduce tech-free zones around the home, which may include the dining room and bedrooms, and actively promote communication, creativity and relaxation in these spaces. Again, this can help to teach a child healthy habits and balance. 

Encourage meeting and seeing people

Arrange activities that involve meeting and seeing people, such as play dates, going to the park or even just going to the shops. These will provide children with the opportunity to build their self-esteem, and allow for healthy social comparison and interactions, away from the digital world.

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