While we understand that it’s often easier said than done, it’s important not to let young people consume too much media over the holiday period. According to Dr Anthea Rhodes, RCH Paediatrician and Director, the effects of too much screen time in children ‘are serious and include unhealthy eating, weight gain, vision problems, sleep problems and effects on mood and mental health’.
However, Dr Rhodes also believes that the summer holidays present parents with a great opportunity to forge healthy media habits. This doesn’t have to entail unplugging the WIFI router or confiscating smartphones – it can be as simple as agreeing to have device free dinners or spending a day outdoors. Of course, you may want to encourage the entire family to participate in an all out digital detox, but we tend to recommend focussing more on striking a balance.
After all, school is a space where young people play with their peers and develop friendships, so they feel the need to continue these friendships by staying connected with their school friends over the holiday period. Most young people choose to do this through screen technologies and social media. If you remove your child’s access to technology or the Internet entirely, they may feel isolated and lonely. This could also cause them to experience FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) which can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
Ideally, your child should see their friends face to face as well. However, in the event that their friends go away somewhere during the Summer period, then this won’t be possible.
Striking Screen Time Balance
The key here is to avoid ‘all or nothing’ approaches to screen time. How you go about this is up to you, but you might choose one of the following tactics:
Treat screen time as a reward or incentive for good behaviour. For example, ‘completing these chores will earn you 1-hour of recreational screen time’
Think of fun family activities to do outdoors
Have dedicated screen-free time each day
Wherever possible, parents should also try to model the behaviours they expect to see from their children. Young people experience the same urge to check their phones that we do, so if we expect them to be able to ignore it, then we need to demonstrate that we can.
According to health and wellbeing experts, Lisa Tang and Jess Haines, “parents play a strong role in guiding the media use of their children. Allowing children and teenagers opportunities to explore their natural environment away from screen-based devices promotes active play and creativity, and helps develop healthy behaviours now and in the future”.