How much is too much?

Wendy Steele on grappling with the role of the ‘third parent’

Children looking at a mobile screen

“Mummy watch me”. “Mummy read to me”. “Mummy feed me”. This seems to be the soundtrack to my existence. This chorus delivered via my seven-year-old son and my – very energetic – four-year-old daughter.

While I wouldn’t have it any other way, there can be days where after an hour commute and full day of work, umpiring a game of cricket while trying to cook dinner and colouring princess pictures makes me question the life choices that lead to this point. Sometimes you long for a moment of quiet to drink that, now cold, cup of tea or have a bath in peace without being asked if I have seen Lego Batman's cape and who would win in a fight, The Hulk or Iron Man.

Any moments of calm are often achieved through the power of a mobile device which in our house can serve as a ‘third parent’ and the jury is still out on who is more effective! Games, Google, videos and e-books offer a level of distraction and entertainment that’s hard pushed to match. It also provides a period of quiet for the ‘grown-ups’ – a moment to regroup, reflect and, in some cases, rebuild mentally and physically from football training and the ’mummy and me’ dance class.

These devices are often our go to tool when travelling in the car or on long haul flights and undoubtedly allow me to retain my sanity. On reflection, as parents, though most of us do worry about how much our children use devices as part of their daily life and if this level of usage, now considered the norm, is healthy or harmful.      

Before working at the AOP, I had read about some of the concerns relating to these devices – such as behavioural issues and the negative impact on developing social skills. And now, I frequently spot articles in the news about how they could be damaging our eye health as well. Fortunately, through my role, I have access to a wealth of practitioner advice and as a result have had any concerns over eye health, at least, alleviated. 

There is no actual evidence to show that blue light, emitted from these devices, is damaging to our eye health but that’s not to say that we should be handing over to our digital friend. This is where the role of the optometrist is paramount – providing informed and trusted advice to guide busy parents. One thing that’s clear is that we should all be taking regular screen breaks and looking after our eyes, like any other part of our body.

With that in mind, I need to find alternative ways to entertain and distract these two beautiful souls that call me mum, so I'm off now to buy fidget spinners!

Read more on children’s eye health in our ‘Why vision matters’ leaflet.

You can also find out about eye conditions and what to expect from a sight test in our For patients section.

Ian BeasleyWendy Steele is the Commercial Director at the Association of Optometrists.