I feel that the only thing we can be certain of is that along with the changing landscape of childhood and growing up, so our parenting needs to change and develop. We need to fully learn about each new social media platform, chat app, game and anything else our kids are in contact with. How does it work, what are the postential benefits of using it, what are the potential dangers of using it. Then we also need to build our children resilience in a new way. We are used and experienced in making friends in the playground, not to talk to strangers, dealing with bullies at school, breaking up with boyfriends or girlfriends, and we know what to say to our kids to help in these situations. Now we need to learn to teach them how to be kind on social media, how to deal with cyber bullying, how to be aware of strangers online, what dangers they could face and how to handle them when they come up, how to post and share responsibly on social media and what your digital footprint is. Raising kids in this digital and connected age is not easy and parents need help! I have two kids, they are 4 and 6, and let me tell you screen time battles are no myth! But let’s ask ourselves why we need to restrict their screen time. Why can’t we just let them have as much access as they want and not have to deal with the arguments and melt-downs over it? Numerous studies show that internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in the brain, particularly involving emotional processing, attention, decision making and cognitive functions. Excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function, with much of the damage occurring in the brain’s frontal lobe. Frontal lobe development largely determines success in life, including sense of well-being, academic and career success and relationship skills. ?Dr Victoria Dunkley (Author of Reset Your Child’s Brain) has diagnosed what she calls Electronic Screen Syndrome. It is a condition in which the nervous system becomes overstimulated from too much screen-time, and is essentially a disregulation syndrome, where various brain mechanisms start to malfunction due to hyperarousal. In her research she found that typical forms of ESS included irritability, poor focus, and defiant behavior. Children with ESS become tearful, frustrated, or angry very easily, and tend to have meltdowns over minor incidents. They’re often struggling in school because they can’t get their work done, and display immature behavior, such being argumentative or getting upset at not winning. They may have lost interest in outdoor play or anything that isn’t electronically-based, and show little imaginative or creative play. Some children can experience disregulation after just 30 minutes of screen time. She also notes that a child need not be “addicted” to technology to suffer effects from using it.?It is important to note screen-time’s impact on sleep. The bright light emitted by an electronic screen mimics daylight, so it tricks the brain into alertness, in part by suppressing the sleep signal melatonin. Lack of melatonin desynchronizes the body clock, resulting in shallow sleep, altered brain chemistry, and disrupted hormone cycles. In fact, some of the weight gain and high blood pressure effects related to screen-time is not just from being sedentary and out of shape, but from chronically high stress hormones. According to the Association of Optometrists “there is currently no scientific evidence that blue light causes damage to the eyes though. However, there is evidence to suggest that carrying out near tasks, involving looking at something close-up, such as using mobile devices, screen time and reading a book, can increase eye strain for those who do this for long periods of time.” Short sighted-ness (Myopia) is increasing worldwide. Screen use has been linked to the development of myopia, however there is no clear evidence to suggest it is a direct cause. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends the following: • no screen time at all for children under the age of 2 • 2 hours per day for children over the age of 2There is no official recommendation in the UK.?We need to decide for ourselves when to switch off. I hope that by now you have completed your 2 day diary of your child or children’s screen time activity. Take a look at this objectively, and answer the questions below. Do you see a pattern? Do you see anything that is cause for concern? If you would like another opinion on this please do email me, I’d be happy to help.?Answer these questionsIs your child:? • Eating and sleeping enough? • Getting at least 1 hour of physical exercise outdoors every day? • Connecting face to face with friends and family? • Engaged and doing well in school? • Enjoying and pursuing hobbies and interests?Can you answer yes to all of the questions? If not, then these are the areas you need to focus on to bring more balance to your child’s life and technology use.?Signs of screen addiction • Your child finds it very difficult to turn off and walk away from their screen • Your child seems to have lost interest in other things and activities, and is only motivated by screens • Thinks obsessively about his/her screen • Screen use causes problems within the family • Amount of time they want to use the screens keeps increasing • Deceptive and secretive about screen use • Using screens as a method of escape – it seems to be the only thing that makes them feel better or happyPutting limits and boundaries in place depends largely on the age of your child. Although there are no official guidelines for screen time, there are some ideas and recommendations here to help and guide you.?Before we go any further, if, after reading the previous section your child’s screen use is suggestive of addictive behaviour, Dr Victoria Dunkley suggests a 3 – 4 week technology fast. A complete removal of all screen use for this time will reset your child’s behaviour allowing you to slowly reintroduce screens to find the optimum amount of time for your child. Yes, the thought of removing all screen time for 4 weeks could be a parent’s worst nightmare. But consider the negative impact of your child’s screen addiction on your child and your family right now. Think of this as a trial period, and use this time to help your child put healthy habits back in place. Schedule more outside activity and give them responsibility at home with chores.?0-2 years old?It is widely advised that children under the age of 18 months should not have screen time at all. I have 2 kids, so believe me I understand how hard it is to say that when your child wakes up at 5am every single day and you have a long day of work ahead of you. Most parents would just stick them in front of the TV/ipad so they could get another hour of sleep. Yes, that is easy and convenient, but I would ask you to look at it a different way. Before you know it your baby will be all grown up and sleepless nights and early mornings will be a distant memory, but the damaging effects of screen time will remain. 2-5 years old?Setting a time limit early on, and sticking to it, will help to avoid screen time battles when you are trying to take it away or turn it off. I have found that a really helpful tool is to use an sand timer or a countdown timer app, allowing your child to see how much time is left and not to get a big surprise when time is up. 20/30 minutes at a time is a good guideline at this age, and up to an hour in total. In this age group it is important that you have parental controls and passwords set on all devices your child has access to (for specific information relating to setting up these controls see my full Cyber Savvy Course). Be present, explore together and be involved so that you know exactly what your child is doing, playing and watching online at all times. Try to choose safe, fun and educational games, apps and programmes for your child. 6 years old and above?Engage your older children in making a Family Tech Use Plan. By explaining your concerns and the effects of too much screen time you are putting them in control and allowing them to make decisions about their own use. Come to an agreement about how much time per day they can use devices, how much of that time is recreational use or educational use, where in the house they can use their devices (you may want to make a rule to stop all screen use in certain rooms of the house), and what times of the day. Another good idea is to have an “unplugged day” once a week or even once a month, that is reserved entirely for family time. When the plan has been decided on, ensure it is adhered to. Most importantly, be a role model to your children. Take a look at your own usage and remember that your children will take their cues from you.