In this article, you will get all the information regarding As parents, can we all agree that a bit of screen time for children is actually a good thing? | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
As the baby turns one, I’ve been looking back at the past year – which seems somehow to have been both the longest and shortest of my life – and reflecting on what I’ve learned. I embarked upon parenthood thinking I was at least a little bit prepared in terms of what it involved, only for it to be made swiftly apparent that I am utterly clueless. In fact, one of the sharpest, most humbling lessons so far has been the dawning understanding that no one actually really knows what they are doing most of the time.
I suspect that before a baby arrives we all have some ideas about the sort of parents we are going to be, only to guiltily dispatch with those “principles” one by one as the child grows. This has never been more apparent to me than when thinking about screen time. How I laugh now at the sweet summer child who obnoxiously recommended the CBeebies Prom to my fellow National Childbirth Trust (NCT) mums, keen to stress that of course I turned his bouncer to face away from the screen. I’m surprised the poor baby didn’t get a crick in his neck from craning to see what was going on.
I gave up trying in the end. By the time he was six months old he had watched a fair bit of football and most of Wimbledon with my husband, and quite a lot of Strictly with my mother (neither of whom are as neurotic as me).
Guidance on screen time varies. American paediatricians – those voices of authority who loom over anything you Google about babies ever: “Consult them! Consult them!” you are implored – say no screen time until 18 months (!). In the UK, we are more realistic. The NHS and Nice recommend an upper limit of two hours a day. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) criticised the US guidelines, and the NCT stresses the benefits to parents and children, in that it helps give children downtime and their carers get things done around the house, which is code for “drink a glass of wine on the sofa”.
Though I have written before about the pressure on mothers especially to entertain and educate their babies constantly, making everything a learning opportunity, at least in this one respect our health bodies and charities seem to recognise a more balanced approach is needed.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel guilty. I have yet to hear a parent discuss screen time without it being in a hushed tone of someone admitting to a shameful secret. The baby has been through another period of illness, as well as adjustment to nursery, and TV has enabled him to rest and recuperate when he hasn’t felt like playing. When a few months ago he was hospitalised, Disney songs kept him calm and still while the tubes and wires could do their work making him better. When he said “bear”, clear as a bell while watching a song from The Jungle Book, I thought, well, telly can’t be all bad.
And yet the guilt persists. My husband, who is from a large family and whose first words were “Joe Montana”, argues that some of this is “precious firstborn” syndrome. If you have more than one child, good luck trying to stop them from watching TV. He points out that he watched back-to-back Ninja Turtles, not to mention the four hours preceding Ninja Turtles while they waited for it to come on. “I’m not talking about Ninja Turtles, though!” I wailed. “I’m talking about the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra!”
Clearly, I need to get over myself. Which is why I think transparency about screen time is important, even if it means being judged. People treat it as though you’re using it as a stand-in for a lovely countryside walk or a day at the museum, as opposed to “quiet time”. A friend whose toddler has additional needs says that screen time is crucial for him to decompress after nursery.
My own brother is autistic, and coming across Something Special on CBeebies, which uses Makaton to help children with communication difficulties, actually made me feel quite tearful, as nothing like this existed when he was young. Yes, it’s easy to see how too much screen time could affect development, but an all-or-nothing approach helps no one, especially not when you are desperately trying to make a seemingly simple supper of pasta and tomato sauce – which these days feels as ambitious as the coq au vin I used to do from scratch, pre-baby – without the bairn wreaking havoc.
So I acknowledge, with a full heart, that I have used TV to help me parent, and I feel incredibly grateful to the BBC. I now understand, as no doubt many, many of you did before me, why she is an “Auntie” to so many of us. The quality of the programming for young children is astonishing, and all without having to expose them to advertising, which I loathe and which is my parental red line. Yes, having the theme tune to Small Potatoes (described as “an animated series about a group of potatoes who sing songs in different genres”) going round my head at 4am is not ideal, but I’ll take it for the joy it gives my boy.
You have probably noticed that I’ve focused mostly on television, and that’s because the other kind of screen time feels less benevolent. Come back to me when my toddler is bidding for Postman Pat memorabilia on eBay using my PayPal and has become prey to the YouTube algorithm, and perhaps we’ll have a different sort of conversation. But for now the screen time in our lives all feels very gentle, wholesome and educational, and I feel ever so slightly less exhausted and overwrought.
I’ve loved the work of Alice Neel since I was a student, and I wrote recently about the book The Baby on the Fire Escape, which sheds light on how she juggled art with motherhood. So it was a great thrill to see so many of her portraits in one place at the Barbican in London. Her paintings of pregnant women and mothers with babies are particularly affecting.
I’m wondering if it’s now officially too late to send thank-you cards for all the newborn gifts we received a year ago. Amid the shock of a premature delivery and caring for a baby that should have still been in the womb, I somehow got it together to have cards made, but the time in which to write and send them has eluded me. Though friends and family are understanding, it still bothers me.
As parents, can we all agree that a bit of screen time for children is actually a good thing? | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
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