"To completely get rid of screens all together is unrealistic. It is important kids have some exposure to some degree," said Andrew Greenfield. Darryn Smith

We've gone screen free with kids - results are remarkable

IT all started with a smashed iPad.

I could feel it slipping out from under my arm as I walked up our back stairs. Laden with bags of groceries, school bags, hats, toys, towels and whatever else it was I was carrying in from the car, all I could do was watch it fall two metres to meet the bricks, screen down, with a shattering crunch.

My five-year-old let out a cry of horror and raced back down to rescue it. But I knew the damage had already been done. And I wasn't the least bit sad.

When he carried it back inside and held it out to me, shattered screen up in his two small hands, all I said was: "Good."

"Good?" he cried.

"Yes, good. You watch it too much. You want it too much. You sneak onto it in the mornings when you know we have a 'no screens before school' rule. I'm glad it's smashed." And with that I put it up on top of the kitchen cupboard and that's where it has stayed. Still broken to this day.

It might sound like I was unsympathetic and a little harsh about him losing such a dear friend but honestly, five minutes later we were making pikelets together and the smashed iPad had already been forgotten.

And since then he has only asked about it once, enquiring as to when it might get fixed. My answer: never.

Next to go was the TV.

We've not had access to free-to-air television for years, simply because the cable won't reach the aerial plug from where the TV is in the lounge room. And we hate free-to-air because of all the ads etc., etc. Yes, I'm one of those whingers.

So we used to just watch movies and then when streaming became a thing, an Apple TV box with subscriptions to Netflix and Stan.

What I liked about this set up was the kids couldn't just walk in and turn the TV on. If they wanted to watch something they had to ask and we had to set it up for them.

But then they were always asking. My three-year-old after we got home from a morning at tennis: "Can I have a watch?" My five-year-old as soon as he got home from school: "Can I have a watch?" 

And if they weren't watching they were trying to get our attention or get us to entertain them.

The TV was a loaner and on the last day of school this year, before we went on our annual camping holiday, I returned it.

Our annual camping holiday is to a magical private campground two hours into the forestry from Armidale. There's no electricity. No reception. And most importantly: no screens.

For the first couple of days the kids were badgering us to always watch this or that or play this or play that with them.

Now don't get me wrong, we were playing plenty of games with them: Uno, Scrabble, bocce and doing lots with them: swimming in the creek, cooking, we even wrote a book together. All the things we do with them when we're at home.

But what we found was without a screen to entertain them, they wanted us to. For that period of time when they would have likely been having a "watch" at home, they wanted us to be the screen.

Then something remarkable happened. After those first couple of days, they just stopped. And started playing by themselves or together. 

At the end of the six days, my kids were inseparable. They had these little games going, their own jokes, they were connected. And they were more connected with us. We were all more connected as a family unit.

As we wound our way out of West Kunderang, I vowed out loud, that we weren't going to get another TV. And there were no complaints from our two youngsters in the backseat.

Now, are you wondering how we got on when we got home? Back to reality, back to reception, back to technology?

Fine. Absolutely fine. 

We've been home two weeks now and besides watching the odd movie on the computer AS A FAMILY, there's been nothing. 

In the morning my kids get up and they - play. All day they - play. We go out, we go to the beach, we go to the zoo, we climb our local mountain, we take the dog and bike ride around the park. Then we get home and they - play.

There are no tantrums, no fighting (except for the odd spat over something the other wants, they're amazing but they're still kids), no badgering us to watch this or entertain them.

They are learning so much more. Instead of watching a screen while I cook dinner or hang out the washing or work on my latest project, they are there beside me: helping me cook, handing me washing or picking up a paint brush.

They're so much more conscientious towards each other, other people, animals.

They talk nicely to each other, to us. 

There's hardly ever any tears. Just lots of laughs, lots of music, lots of crazy dance offs and lots and lots of great times and memories.

So are we doing the right thing?

I spoke to well-known child and educational psychologist, Andrew Greenfield.

He said we live in a world where we have technology and screens, so we have to be realistic.

"To completely get rid of screens all together is unrealistic. It is important kids have some exposure to some degree. 

"It is not detrimental to their development or psychological well being to have some screen time but it depends on what they're doing.

"Screens can be good things for kids to use to wind down and have their own time on but it depends on three things:

"One: what they're doing on the screens. Is it educational, interactive or just blood and guts?

"Two: how long they're staring at the screen.

"And three: are they interacting with someone when they're on the screen?"

Mr Greenfield said staring at a screen all the time can have detrimental effects on a child.

"It can affect their language developmental and social skills. 

"And what they're doing on the screen has to be developmentally appropriate. There is too much content that's not age appropriate and that's not appropriate."

When asked how much time is too much time to spend on a screen, Dr Greenfield said it is up to individual parents but two hours a day is more than enough.

"Timing is a massive question.

"It is not uncommon for kids to spend five, six or seven hours a day on a screen. They get home from school at 4pm and are on it until 9 or 10pm at night, longer for older kids.

"This shows parents are completely unaware of what their kids are doing.

"On school days, two hours a day is more than enough screen time. On weekends this can be longer. 

"But max, one hour at a time.

"Being on a screen for too long, kids stop actively interacting with the game or the detail of what they're watching becomes mundane.

"And the biggest issue with letting kids spend too much time on screens is getting them off."

Mr Greenfield is a father of three - an 11, nine and four-year-old - and said the rule in his household is if there is a tantrum of any sort then they've been on it too long.

"I know people say getting them off is easier said than done but you're the parent. You have to be in control - not controlling - in all areas."

So I know what we're doing isn't for everyone and I'm certainly not saying my children won't use technology ever (I'm all for learning how to use a computer, I use one every day).

But in terms of watching screens or in this case, not watching screens, the results have been so remarkable I'm telling everyone I know, everyone I meet, everyone here.

But really, it is up to you and your family. You know them best. But a little less screen time would never hurt anyone and a little more "us" and "me time" would do us all the world of good.