Worried about your child’s screen time?

Worried about your child's screen time? Listen back to the advice of Catherine Hallissey Psychologist chatting to Ray D'Arcy, RTE Radio 1

Mentioned in the interview: ‘How to Homeschool without Losing your Mind' online workshop for parents


Now we're back to a topic that won't go away and it's not going to go away – screen time and children. And I was just looking at some research that has happened over the last six months or so. And from a lot of countries, including our own, it looks like screen time among our younger people has doubled since lockdown began.

So we decided to get psychologist Catherine Hallissey on the line. Catherine is a child psychologist, and she's also mother to four children, which is important, I suppose, Catherine, because it gives you the coal face experience, doesn't it? How are you doing?

Hi there, Ray. Now, they'll kill me if I don't say that there's actually five of them.

Sorry. I don't know where I got four from. Sorry. I thought I thought it was four. Sorry, sorry. Five children. Sorry about that.

They'll be listening back and wondering which one of them I left out!

Okay, good to talk to you again. So, this is, well, let's get to the nub of this in that our relationship with technology has changed over the last 11 months. And what we say as parents has changed as well, because we're gone from sort of “how do we control all this?” to saying, “well, you know, you need it”. They need it to interact with their mates. They need it to occupy, as a distraction, as a diversion. So, what do you think what's, how do we approach all this now?

You know, I think first of all, it's really important to say that we've all made decisions in this past 12 months that was really just about getting through things and surviving. So for anybody listening to this now, the most important thing is that you don't feel guilty with anything that we say because there are some hard realities with working from home, educating children at home, and we've all made choices that maybe we wouldn't make again. With that said, there are so many things that we can do as parents. And the first thing is to just really take a look at what's going on in your house, really take a hard look and see what aspects of this are you happy with. So it's not about demonizing screen time in any way. You're right – screen time has brought so many benefits to all of us during lockdown, in addition to the ordinary, everyday benefits. And so it's definitely not about demonizing screen time. It's just taking a look at how can we be more intentional as a family in our screen time use? So how long are we all spending on devices and what type of activities we are doing on the same devices?

Yeah. See, it's mixed messages though, isn't it? Because now the devices are being used for education. As I said already, there've been used for social interaction with mates and relations, and they're been used for what they were used before lockdown, gaming and all that sort of thing, the things that we don't like that much as parents. Yeah. So what are we saying? Are we saying you can do that, but you can't do that.

Well, not all screen time is created equal.


So, I do this work all the time with children in my clinic where parents may come to me and say they really want to tackle screen time use in their home. And, as a parent, your first step is always look at your own screen time, model what you want to see. So before you even talk about your children's screen time, look at yourself, are you happy with the amount you're using it? Are you happy with how intentional you are? Do you pick up your phone and start scrolling and suddenly 20 minutes has gone by? Well actually start there before you tackle your children's screen time. And this is that mixed messaging that we're giving out, we can do all the hand wringing about our children's screen time, but really we need to look at ourselves as a family unit, what's our family screen time like, what are the activities we're engaging in?

And of course they need it for education. So when your children are using devices for education, make sure there aren't any other devices in the room like phones and tablets, that can be distracting them while they're being educated, because it's the shifting attention that's having a hugely negative impact on our children's education right now. It's so challenging to learn online. And what has happened is that whenever we're experiencing negative emotions, our go-to is to use our phones to soothe ourselves.

What you're saying there, I'd say parents all over the country saying, Oh yeah, that's it exactly. So if they're getting bored or they're having a bit of a problem with a particular subject, or, you know, it doesn't suit them, they go then to the comfort blanket, their technological comfort blanket, which is playing a game of Roblox or whatever they, whatever they go to.

Exactly. Or just going on Snapchat, having just a quick check who has been in touch. You know, I'm doing all of my own learning online at the moment, and I feel those same desires to just check the phone just for a second.


And just breaking in our concentration. So again, this isn't, that screen time is bad. It's our unintentional to use. So what I I'm asking every parent listening is to just really think about what are the digital habits I want to have myself and that I want my children to have. And then how can I get there?

Yeah. It's difficult though, because like you say, remove, you know, other bits of technology from the room, but if your teenager is in the room, you know, supposedly doing online learning, well, then they can do whatever they want in there, because you're not going to be standing over their shoulder. Well, you can't, you have five children, you can't be omnipresent there for five children. So what do you do then?

So this is where you're having a conversation about how we use technology in our home. It's a teenager's job to pull away from their parents. It's a teenager's job. They're driven to connect with one another. So you've got these competing demands. So it's about being realistic as well. So you can start with, with saying, okay, as a family, one of our tech habits is that we don't have any tech during meals.


And you have a sin bin in the kitchen, and everybody puts their devices in there, including mom and dad, even if they're waiting for an email for work, you know, and put whatever devices have just for short period of time. So that's the beginning of a digital detox. So you just decide on certain times, and then the next time you might say, “okay, so you've got an online class for 40 minutes here, Give me your devices here so that you can concentrate”. And actually working together and creating these rules together. Because, to be honest, we all actually need a bit of support to reign in our unintentional screen time. And then you might look at what is the time in the evening? What's your cut-off time in the evening that you want everybody to hand up their device. And this will change and evolve as they get older, so your rules for a 17 year old are going to be very different to your rules for a seven year old. And you're moving towards a much more collaborative approach, the older they get.

From your work, do you think there's been a shift that's going to be difficult to, to redress to bring it back, because, if the amount of screen time has doubled in the last 11 months, and we're going to be out of this eventually at some stage, we're going to have to try and halve the screen time again, to bring it back to pre-lockdown levels.

Yeah. And for some children and families, that's going to be really easy. They're just naturally going to start going back to their activities. And, you know, when the sports open up, the dance class, the Scouts, the martial arts, whatever it is, whenever these activities come back. So again, you're looking at what are the replacement activities? So for some children and families, they're going to slot right back into that life and for other children and families, it's going to be much more problematic.

So what I'm seeing and what the research is showing is that there's a reduction in people's ability to concentrate, a reduction in people's ability, you know, we're snacking on YouTube three to five minute videos versus sitting down and watching a 90 minute movie. Even at that very basic level, it's changed our viewing habits. So, you can start by sitting down with your teenagers and watching The Social Dilemma and having a conversation with them about how screens…

So that's a documentary on Netflix, about how the big tech companies manipulate how we use our devices.

Yeah. And how we're the product. Our attention is the product. So I talk to young people about, you know, you want to be in charge of yourself. You don't want anybody else manipulating you through your phone. So, you know, you've got to really think about how to make that happen. And this is where the being intentional with your use of devices.

When people listen to people like you, Catherine, they want specifics don't they, I'm looking at the screen here, “please be specific about how many hours my kid should on screening, screen time every day, I'm talking about gaming, not educational. It's a constant source of angst in our house. We allow two hours per day for our eight and nine year old boys. That's on top of educational, two hours a day.”

I'm always frustrated with this myself that we don't actually have any evidence-based guidelines on the amount of time. So for every parent listening, I'd say, first thing is, what are you happy with yourself? Don't go against your own values. If two hours is within your values, then that's fine. But what I would suggest is that you try and be with your child as much as possible when they are gaming, you know, be part of their world, don't have them immersed in this hyper-stimulating world that you know nothing about.

And how do you feel about, and this is what's happening in our house now, so they're on a phone Roblox, but they're also, they're playing that, but their cousin best friend is also playing it and they're talking at the same time. So they're getting social interaction, interaction, but they're gaming.

Yep, and, and gaming isn't bad, it's just about what it displaces. So, so many children, it's their lifeline right now. They're connecting with cousins, they're connecting with friends classmates, you know, so there isn't a problem with gaming. It's only about the length of time. It's only about the fact that it's so hyper-stimulating, and if you're spending four hours gaming, then it's going to impact your sleep that night, because it's so hyper-stimulating. So I'd be looking at the time of day that children are using screens. You know, we know that the blue light from the screens impacts the production of melatonin, that's what gets you on that sleepy train at night, it's what helps you feel sleepy. So look at the time of day, look at the length of time your children are on it, the time of day, and also the type of screen use.

And make sure as well that your children are reading, you know, make sure that they're reading, they're reading for 20 minutes a day and make sure they're moving their bodies for a minimum, an absolute minimum, of 20 minutes a day. We know 20 minutes a day has a positive impact on their mental health, and that's, we're all thinking about our children's resilience right now. So, it's not just about screen time, it's actually about what it's displacing. Is it displacing family time? Yeah. Activity probably is.

The other thing is, cause you mentioned it homeschooling there. And just, just from you, maybe words of comfort for parents now, because I was talking about the statement, they're calling it from Micheal Martin on Saturday about the fact that all schools won't be back before March 17th, which is another what? Seven, eight weeks, seven weeks. So what, what, what, what can you say to people from your experience working at the coalface?

So the two things that are coming up in every single interaction I'm having with parents, whether it's in my clinical practice or inside my parenting membership are the two things people are talking about are screen time and homeschooling. Yeah. So the first thing is what we're being asked to do, it's not homeschooling, we're facilitating remote learning in the middle of a pandemic possibly while also trying to work from home. So the first thing is we just need to take a breath and do what we can do.

And because of the stress that everybody is under, I'm planning a mini workshops for parents. It's going to be about 90 minutes where I will share with you everything that I do in my own home and everything that I know from my clients about what's working. Okay. How to set up your environment, your home environment to optimize your learning.

Can you give us a few of those things that you'll be sharing with the people who come on? I see that you're, you're only charging like a nominal fee of €7. So, so can you just give us a couple of quick points?

Yeah. Normally the workshops are more expensive, but just with the way things are at the moment, I want to make it as accessible as possible. So it's €7 and I'm going to be talking about how to set up your home, how to look at your overall schedule. For example, like I have had to problem solve loads of things with the size of the family here. And I've had to really rejig my own work schedule. What are the practical things you can do to get it done in the shortest amount of time? How can you optimize the learning space, even what type of music to play in the background? I'll be sharing all of that. Just really practical things.

And if you can't make it to this workshop, that's okay too. I'd love to have you, but if you can't make it, just to hear me now saying this, this will pass. Okay. These few months, it's not going to make or break your children's education.

Well, that's reassuring because I think some people think it will, you know that they're losing out.

It definitely won't!

Well, there you go. Catherine says it won't. She's a mother of five. She's a child psychologist. She is telling you now that these few months of homeschooling are not going to make or break your child. So there you go. That's reassuring. Catherine thanks so much.

Just one second Ray, I just want people jump onto my Facebook page, Catherine Hallissey Psychologist, because that's actually where I'm going to be putting up the details about the workshop and jump onto my email list on my website because people on the email list are going to get first dibs on places catherinehallissey.com.

Thanks Catherine. Thank you so much. Thank you very much. The Ray D'Arcy Show on RTE radio 1.

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