Limit screen time and enjoy a healthier life

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FOR three months last year, we went without a television.

The old one was on the blink and rather than replacing it, we opted to go without for a while.

The girls were challenged at first, but within a week learnt to live quite happily without the black box at the centre of the lounge.

I’ve never been one to watch much TV so it’s not often turned on in our house, but my eldest daughter loves it. She was starting to plan her day around her favourite shows and recite advertisements her sister and I had never heard.

This was despite her not being allowed to watch television in the morning, and we don’t get home until 6pm on weekdays – therefore she was spending too much time in front of the box at weekends.

So we gave it up – and it was pure bliss.

The lounge was quiet – and rather than grabbing the remote out of habit, daughter number one went back to her old ways of entertaining herself.

Her younger sister, who has never enjoyed television, loved having her older sister to play with again and they returned to playing board games and dolls.

But more importantly, there were noticeable changes in her behaviour.

She was not as defiant, or angry. Her attitude was far more pleasant and she wasn’t tired.

Whilst she wasn’t watching a lot of television, she was clearly watching too much – and it was affecting her.

So when we decided to reintroduce the dreaded television back into the house, it was with stricter rules.

And likewise for the DS, Wii and computer.

Now, they’re not turned on every day. Often, the damn things are banned indefinitely because we know that if the girls have too much “screen’’ time, they change – and the mood in the house changes.

Therefore it came as no surprise when child health experts yesterday issued warnings about the impact of new technology on child development and wellbeing.

The research, from the University of WA, says that children’s exposure to screen time is increasing at an alarming rate and overuse can cause poor concentration skills, interpersonal skills and disturbed sleep.

Our own research at home found exactly that.

I know screens affect at least one of my children – and am learning to include technology in her life while limiting the impact.

She also knows her boundaries, and while still pushes them from time to time, is aware that rules are in place for her own wellbeing.

Of late, we have even talked about life without a television again.

I recall my father locking us out of the house when we were children to ensure we stayed outside playing for the afternoon. We saw that as punishment, but he was actually doing us a favour (and no doubt buying some peace for himself at the same time).

As the experts say, there is a huge range of technology now available to children throughout their day – from multi-channel TVs, computer games, on-screen learning, mobile phones, iPads, iPods, the list goes on...

But what that is doing is robbing our kids of natural play experiences where they use their creativity and imagination. And it’s affecting their behaviour.

It’s a beautiful thing hearing your daughters play dolls in pretend buses made out of kitchen chairs.

No television can give you that gorgeous sound of waking to children’s chatter as they play mums and dads – nor can it help blow out the cobwebs like a good jump on the trampoline.

No computer or iPad can replace going through a beautiful, old-fashioned cookbook or help a child learn to play chess.

There is a place for computers, smartphones, iPads, and televisions in a child’s world – and indeed they need to stay abreast of changes to ensure they keep up with their peers in future.

But gosh, a world without them is a happy place to be – and a healthier place to be.

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