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I let my 3-year-old son have 7 hours a day of screentime – I feel guilty but it helps me nap and stops his tantrums

WRITER Charlotte Owen, 38, from Leeds, turns to tech for up to 7 hours a day to keep the peace when her toddlers have a meltdown.

Here, she speaks to Fabulous about why she bitterly regrets doing so.

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Seb is ‘plugged in’ while Charlotte and the family enjoy lunch out[/caption]

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Charlotte Owen and her children Seb and Harriet[/caption]

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Charlotte says the ‘crypad’ habit is one she simply can’t break[/caption]

It’s 5am when I feel my 14-month-old son, Seb, wriggle his way into the middle of our bed.

He’s been up three times in the night already and my husband Alex and I are completely exhausted.

If we don’t leap out of bed and start the day, he’ll have a tantrum — so I hand him my phone.

While he watches Hey Duggee on iPlayer, we steal another 30 minutes of sleep. 

Some mornings we do feel guilty about pushing a phone in his face, but if we refuse, we’ll get screaming, shouting or toy-throwing. 

These tantrums will last until we give in and he gets the phone.

The so-called “crypad” habit — using technology to soothe a child — is one we simply can’t break. 

I bitterly regret starting it, especially as a recent report by Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary found that giving kids phones or tablets to calm a tantrum actually makes their behaviour worse.

In fact, experts claim using crypads prevents them from learning how to manage their emotions and can lead to “more severe emotion regulation problems”. 

When Seb was about 12 months old, our phones became  “digital dummies”, a tech tactic we used to placate him.


In the early days, he wasn’t a good sleeper and I went from enjoying seven or eight hours a night, before he came along, to blocks lasting three hours at most.

It was an almighty shock.

During the first two years of his life, he’d be up at 5am — and that was after waking up as many as four times during the night.

Sometimes he would scream until we rocked him back to sleep, then start screaming again as soon as we put him down.

First thing in the morning, his shouts would be cheerful and happy — the exact opposite of how Alex, 37, and I felt as we tried to prise open our bleary eyes.

We soon got into the habit of bringing Seb into our bed, but those playful giggles quickly escalated into frustration as we begged him to go back to sleep.

‘Our phones became digital dummies’

Seb would throw tantrums, arching his back and crying as we tried to move him away from the edges of the bed to keep him safe.

But if we gave him a phone and his favourite episode of Brum — a kids’ TV show about a vintage car — he would soon quieten down. That meant we could close our eyes for a little bit longer.

In the beginning, Seb’s attention span was short, but by the time he was a year and a half, he’d happily watch for up to an hour.

When he got bored of one programme, we’d move on to the next: In The Night Garden, Supertato, Peppa Pig, Bluey, Paw Patrol.

And while the “mum guilt” cut deep, there was no denying screens made parenting easier.

Soon he was talking, and his first morning words turned into, “Can I watch Paw Patrol on your phone, Mummy?”.

If I said no, he would burst into tears and refuse to be consoled until we relented.

If you are a parent who claims you don’t do similar, then either your child sleeps through the night — lucky you — or you are lying.

A House of Commons report published in May this year revealed that kids who are exposed to longer than two hours a day of screen time had “worse working memory, processing speed, attention levels and language skills”. 

‘I’ve tried to avoid relying on tech’

These findings are alarming, but I would argue that being raised by parents who are at breaking point because they are so strained is detrimental to their wellbeing, too.

I’ve tried to avoid relying on tech as a babysitter.

Only recently, we booked a table at our local pub for Sunday lunch, armed with a supply of toys and books — the sort of things so-called “good” parents use to keep their kids entertained.

But Seb soon became restless, wanting to stand on his chair while we longed for the food to arrive.

Panicking, we got out his headphones and hooked them up to Alex’s phone, desperate to nip a full-blown tantrum in the bud.

Even at soft play, when Seb has come to me crying, I have resorted to a quick five minutes of phone time to stall his tears until he’s feeling ready to go back and play.

And when Alex is at work and I have the arduous task of juggling household chores with parenting, I rely on screens to keep the kids settled.

Despite what the parenting books say, sticking Seb, now three years old,  in front of a screen is far easier than asking him to help with emptying the dishwasher.

Of course, this means that Seb’s total screen time soon racks up.

A US study showed that, on average, kids  between the ages of two and four are watching screens for between two and 2.5 hours a day.

On “good” days, or if Seb’s been in nursery, it’s around an hour.

But when Alex is at work and I feel fed-up with parenting on my own, it reaches seven. 

‘Who has the energy to be a 24/7 parent?’

His one-year-old sister Harriet’s screen time clocks up too. 

While she’s not interested in phones yet, she often looks blankly at the massive TV in the front room while Seb watches Bluey.

And I know that when she reaches the “terrible twos”, the only way I’ll be able to cope is by soothing her with a screen. 

I know I’m also guilty of leading by (bad) example.

I “phub” my kids on the daily — scrolling on my phone while ignoring them — which, according to researchers at the University of Texas, can hamper a child’s language development.

I simply can’t stop, even though I know I ought to be “living in the moment”.

But who has the energy to be a 24/7 parent anyway?

Yes, I might not be the fun, engaging parent I should be — and I worry we’ve created a monster, so to speak,  or that we’re dampening our children’s creativity.

But motherhood is tough and we’re all just trying to get through it as best we can.

How to wean them off

KATHRYN MEWES, star of Channel 4’s The Three Day Nanny, reveals how to wean your kids off “crypads” fast.

Day one

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Spend two blocks of twenty minutes solely playing with your child[/caption]

“You need to set out a very structured, child-focused day,” Kathryn says.

“Have two activities planned – go to the park in the morning and the supermarket in the afternoon.

“Spend two blocks of 20 minutes playing solely with your child, so they are then happy to have windows of alone play.

“No screens at all on day one – keep them busy, even though that high-intensity schedule isn’t realistic for more than the first 24 hours.”

Day two

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You need different set-ups to entertain them when they ask for screens[/caption]

“Here, you need different toy set-ups, or books or Play-Doh, to entertain them when they ask for screens,” she says.

“Introduce the idea of you being on a screen while in front of them.

“To do this, engage in regular 20 minutes of play, but in the last five, tell them you are going to make a call so they become used to screens around them without being allowed access to them.”

Day three

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Push through the tantrums with distractions[/caption]

“Three blocks of 20 minutes of screen time a day is OK for kids, which allows mums to get on with things they need to do,” she explains.

“When taking that screen away, arm yourself with an activity you can take them straight into if they’re little, or explain to older kids that they can have the screen back after lunch or bathtime.

“Push through the tantrums with distractions.”

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