Mark Woods: Family Matters

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As a species we’ve lived through ice ages, stone ages, bronze ages and steam ages.

But what era are we in today? A quick glance around most restaurants, buses or sitting rooms will reveal the answer – this undoubtably is the age of the screen. We are surrounded by screen upon screen – second screens, third screens, screens on our wrists and now even screens perched on the end of our noses. This presents today’s parents with a perplexing issue – is it good to allow your children to interact with screens? The US the Academy of Pediatrics gives pretty clear advice – if your child is under two there should be zero screen time.

For older kids, two hours a day should be the absolute maximum. Putting aside the equally thorny issue of what is and isn’t suitable content for them to view , the harsh truth is that when it comes to the impact touchscreen technology has on young children researchers know next to nothing. Touchscreens are wonderfully intuitive to children. I’ve handed an iPad to kids who live in some of the remotest parts of the world and they can navigate it in seconds – this isn’t learnt behaviour, it connects with something much more hard-wired. There’s no doubt that tablets and the like are being used as the new pacifier – a simple way to make long car journeys and restaurant meals easier. And even if they are happily and constructively learning their ABCs on a device, the trance-like state they fall into is a worry.

Screens make us more connected and more isolated at the same time and that goes for our kids too. Dr Jenny Radesky, an American paediatrician, observed 55 groups of parents and young children eating at restaurants and saw many of the grown- ups pulled out a mobile device almost immediately.

“Children learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions. And if that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones,” he says. So while how our children cope in this new age is a genuine parental issue, how we resist the pull of the siren-like screen ourselves looks like it’s equally important too.

Twitter @mark_r_woods