Parents the world over are being faced with many unanswered questions as their children discover the lure of the internet. One of the toughest questions all must deal with, is the amount of time your children spend staring at a screen. How much time is too much? What are the warning signs? What impact does this have on your child’s development? And how as parents can we manage this?
Today’s children spend a large portion of their school day looking at a device as an essential learning tool. When your kids come home they’ll use those essential learning tools to do homework. If they get past the homework it’s time for emails, a bit of texting, photo and meme sharing, a bit of YouTube and streaming a couple of TV shows. Next, it’s time for a few online games and chattering away on messaging apps with their friends until you call lights out.
SCREEN TIME STATISTICS
Google this subject and you’re bombarded with statistics. But to keep it simple, let’s focus on a few:
The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that in 2011-12, kids aged 2–4 years spent almost one and a half hours (83 minutes) watching TV, DVDs or playing electronic games.
On average, children and young people aged 5–17 years spent one and a half hours (91 minutes) per day on physical activity and over two hours a day (136 minutes) in screen-based activity. Physical activity falls and screen-based activity rises as age increases.
Just under half (44 per cent) of all kids aged 2–17 years had at least one type of screen-based item (e.g. TV, tablet, or game console) in their bedroom. For the 15–17 year olds, three-quarters had some kind of screen-based media in their bedroom and this was associated with them spending an extra two hours per week on screen-based media compared with those who did not have any such item in their bedroom.
Australian adolescents spend 100 minutes more per day looking at screens on weekends and public holidays.
SCREEN TIME GUIDELINES
Now let’s compare that with Australian Department of Health’s national guidelines which define the recommended amount of entertainment related screen time for each child and teen age group:
Children 5 to 17 years – No more than two hours a day.
Children 2 to 5 years – Less than one hour a day.
Under 2 years – None. Babies and toddlers should not watch any TV or other electronic media.
Like many parents out there, you may feel those recommendations feel far, far less than the norm. But is the norm too much?
THE IMPACTS OF TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME
Given what you might have been experiencing with your kids, these targets may seem impossible to achieve. But you may be willing to put more effort into reaching these targets when you consider the possible impacts, including:
physical issues that result from sedentary activity including obesity and other related health problems
sleep issues (getting to sleep, staying asleep, quality of sleep)
impact on school performance, attentiveness and grades
increased likelihood of depression and anxiety
impaired social development and social withdrawal
increased risk of cyberbullying (greater exposure due to more time spent online)
exposure to inappropriate content, which can impact social and mental development and mental health.
To be blunt, too much screen time may affect your child’s physical, social and emotional well-being. It may go so far as to impact their ability to get the most from their education, make and keep friends, and develop into healthy, intelligent and happy adults.
THE WARNING SIGNS OF TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME
There are a few warning signs you can keep an eye out for that may indicate your kids are getting too much screen time. According to the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner, these can include:
an obsession with particular websites or games
anger when being asked to take a break from screen activity
being anxious and irritable when away from the computer
lower interest in social activities like meeting friends or playing sport
reduced personal hygiene
ongoing headaches, eye strain and sleep disturbance.
It’s common to see elements of these behaviours in every child as they go through the usual transition from early childhood through to adolescence. But when many of these boxes are ticked simultaneously, and it’s combined with long periods of screen time, you may need to take action.
HOW TO MANAGE SCREEN TIME FOR YOUR KIDS
Be a role model – Don’t expect your kids to listen to your demands for reduced screen time if you say it to them while looking down at your mobile or mumbling it from behind your iPad. Model the behaviour you expect of them. The bonus is you’ll likely benefit as much as them.
Keep screens out of the bedroom – This is a tough one to enforce but bedtime should mean sleep. Ensuring that device use occurs in common areas of the home also helps parents to monitor activity and reduced the likelihood of children accessing something they shouldn’t while parents are around.
Set clear rules and limits – This requires toughness and consistency. Don’t bow to the sad-eyed forlorn looks from your cute young cherubs. Ignore the howling protests of your impetuous teens. The rules are the rules. Explain to your kids why you’ve put these rules in place. And, remember to model the behaviour yourself.
Watch with your kids – Watching content or TV with your kids helps to provide context, explanation and as an added bonus you’re spending time with your kids doing something they enjoy. That’s good parenting. Just watch the time limits and enforce them.
No screens at the table – Breakfast, lunch and dinner. That includes TV. It’s a time to connect with the most important people in your lives, not see whether the Martinique Family is going to win the car on Family Feud.
Take your kids outside – Maintaining an active lifestyle will help your whole family. Walk the dog, kick the footy, go to the beach, ride bikes, go to the playground, anything that gets you active and out in the fresh air. And leave the screens at home.
Use technology to your advantage – with Wangle Family Insites we help parents stay up to date with their children’s behaviours, as well as offering information, research and resources to help parents understand and address issues as they arise.
A FINAL WORD
We should remember that the recommended screen times and management techniques shown above are guidelines, and as parents, you know how your family works, and what is likely to work best. There is also considerable debate that questions whether quantity, or quality, of screen time, is the main question, a topic we’ll cover in another article.
The key take home message is that it’s possible to take control, educate yourself as a parent, and share that knowledge with your kids so they learn healthy habits and to use the internet as just one part of a broader, more balanced lifestyle.
Now, go outside and get some fresh air. And take your kids with you…