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"I'm a nanny for two families. The one major difference between them has a huge impact."

Parents, gather round. I think we need to talk about screens. Specifically what rules you have around children and “screen-time“.

I work as a nanny for two families with primary school age children. Mostly my job is to pick the kids up from school, take them home, get them to do homework, take them to any after-school activities, and generally entertain them until their parents come home. The jobs are pretty similar, and the kids are usually great. But there is one main difference between these two families, and it revolves around “screen-time”.

Family One has no restrictions on their kids screen time once they have completed their homework. They are free to use their iPads, watch television or play on the computer as they wish. While the kids often like to flop down in front of the television after school, play on their iPads and listen to music on their iPods, they also spend time playing outside or with board games.

Family Two has a strict schedule on when and for how long their children are allowed to use their screens and devices. They are allowed limited time using devices after 5 pm, and every week they’re clock-watching for when their screen-time rolls around. They are constantly nagging me to let them use their devices early, and more than once they have snuck in a few minutes with iPads before their allocated time.

When it comes to Family Two, I seem to be always managing nagging and sneaky behaviour when it comes to screens and after speaking with the parents I know that they do too. The kids know that they are not allowed screens – but are constantly trying to bend the rules.

Parents and carers seem to be being hammered all the time about the detrimental effects of screens on kids, from fears about behavioural issues to health and social problems, so lots of families are very prohibitive about how their kids use screens. According to child psychologist Dr Kimberley O'Brien of the Quirky Kid Clinic, parents need to be cautious about the behaviour they are modelling for their children.

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"For kids, it just looks the same whether it's work or pleasure. They just see a parent on a screen looking distracted so that is a great time for them to go and copy that same behaviour," she says.

But with all this negative chat about screens and "screen-time", we seem to be forgetting that technology is a legitimate interest for a lot of kids - just like sport or craft. Odds are they will end up using it either recreationally or professionally later in life, so instead of enforcing screen prohibition, should we be teaching them responsible and appropriate technology etiquette?

Pete Etchells is a psychologist and video games researcher at Bath Spa University in England who has done extensive research into the effects of screens on behaviour. He says that to lump all technology-based activities under the umbrella of "screen-time" is not helpful as not all screens are created equal.

"Screen time is a really enticing measure because it’s simple – it’s usually described as the number of hours a day using screen-based technology. But it’s completely meaningless. It doesn’t say anything about what you’re using that time for,” he says.

Jane Martino talks about her app and her rules about screen time for her kids. Post continues after audio.

So, it's not necessarily screens that are causing problems with our kids, rather what they are doing on them. So if you're hesitant to let your kids use screens it may make you feel better to know that playing on an iPad app or video game console has shown to be less detrimental than watching television for the same amount of time.

According to research by the Australian government, there are huge differences between active and passive screen-time. Active screen-time can be playing video games, completing learning activities, or movement-based games like the ones created by Nintendo Wii. Passive screen-time is usually watching television or YouTube videos, where there is little to no engagement beyond simply watching what is in front of you. The problem with the way Australian kids use of screens at the moment is they're exceeding the recommended daily amount of screen-time with mostly passive use.

Teaching technology education in schools may be one of the ways we can teach children about responsible screen use, especially as technology is only going to be further integrated into our everyday lives. Studies have shown that less than half of parents aged 18-34 are satisfied with the way schools are teaching their children about technology, which is something Apple is trying to change. They are committed to broadening education beyond reading, writing, and mathematics, and are lobbying for coding to be taught alongside traditional foundation subjects.

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"Coding is essential to help students thrive in a future driven by technology. When you teach coding, you also teach skills like critical thinking and problem-solving," says the Apple website.

So, I am not suggesting that you should just plonk your kids in front of Peppa Pig or let them play Plants vs Zombies for hours on end, but there is a whole host of great apps and programs kids can use for constructive and educational "active" screen time, such as Swift Playground, Reading Eggs and Math Prodigy. Educational and active learning apps can be a great compromise between parents who don't want their children over-using screens and kids who want to play on their iPads and computers. An interest in technology can begin at an early age, and it is important not to stifle it but encourage it responsibly, says Dr O'Brien.

"There is a time and a place for skill building. Coding workshops are something that is really popular now. [The problem is] then setting limits on screen-time can feel like they [parents] are not nurturing that skill," she says.

"[Parents] need to monitor the benefit from those activities," she continued.

If your kids are constantly nagging to use screens then maybe you should consider compromising and allowing them to use some active learning or movement based games and see if they have a genuine interest in tech or if they just want to watch YouTube videos.

What rules do you have about screen-time?

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