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Summer’s here, kids, you’re going offline

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Brenda Fisher

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A parenting expert is offering families tips on how to restrict access to digital devices and get more out of their holidays

One of the country’s top parenting gurus has advised families to make the most of their summer holidays by limiting children’s screen time to less than an hour a day.

Noël Janis-Norton, who has worked with thousands of parents, including the actress Helena Bonham Carter, says families should aim for drastic reductions in screen time at the start of the holidays

Digital devices and TVs should be banned for under-threes and a half-hour limit set for children from 3 to 8. Over-eights, including teenagers, should be allowed one hour a day on their devices.

A poll published earlier this year revealed that 47% of pupils were worried about not getting enough sleep because of an addiction to technology, and that 11% spent between 10 and 15 hours a day online at weekends and during the holidays.

“It is not going to be a walk in the park to cut back because this addiction to smartphones, iPads and television is real. But thousands of families have told me they are much happier when they do,” said Janis-Norton.

Parents should start by following a three-point strategy: having screen-free parts of the house, including bedrooms; insisting on screen-free times of day (always at mealtimes); and scheduling screen-free days, building up to longer periods.

“Some families I advise now have no screens Monday to Thursday. It may seem harsh to have one hour a day in the holidays but it is doable,” Janis-Norton said. Parents should limit their own time on smartphones to set a good example.

The child behaviour expert, whose latest book is Calmer Easier Happier Screen Time, said: “There is plenty of research to show that [too much screen time] makes children aggressive, disrespectful, unco-operative, anxious, stressed and unwilling to pursue other activities. It eats away at their social confidence [and their] ability to make friends and interact in the real world.”

The Olympic rower James Cracknell and his broadcaster wife Beverley Turner are determined to limit their three children’s screen time this summer. They have rented a house in the Lake District and bought a blow-up canoe in an attempt to keep them busy.

It is all too easy for bored children to “wander aimlessly back to the screen”, Turner said. “Our son is 13, the girls are 8 and 6. The 13-year-old now has a smartphone; the girls are confined to iPads. I’m not sure why I bought them — up until then they would play chess.

“My son’s smartphone is my enemy. I don’t know a parent who doesn’t cite screen time as their biggest challenge.”

Last week she had allowed the children to use an iPad or watch television from when they woke at 6am until 8am so that she could have a lie-in. But the family is making headway.

“We absolutely won’t allow screens at the table, on short car journeys or in rooms after lights out,” she said.

“Children would prefer to be doing other things, I do believe that — but it’s up to us to make that happen.”