News & Media

Let's talk about screen time

03 Aug 17

How much is too much and what can be do about it?

It’s time to have an honest discussion about screen time. It can be a hotly contested topic on the internet, and EVERY man and his dog has an opinion it seems. Most parents know innately that excessive screen time isn’t a good thing. But what constitutes excessive screen time? How many hours is too much?

We have all sorts of screens in our homes these days. TV’s, computers, smart phones, tablets, video consoles…. the list goes on. So many screens to manage and monitor, it can be a daily battle to make the effort to switch them off and get the kids interested in other activities.

Obviously when a child is engaging in screen time they are generally sedentary. Being physically inactive for long periods of time is not natural for children, they need their down-time but it isn’t good for their health or development to be physically inactive.

The official recommendation from the Department of Health is that for children 2 – 5 years old, screen time should be limited to less than one hour per day. This shocked me. My 2 year old would quite easily watch 2-3 hours of television a day. Confession…. I use the TV as a bit of a babysitter. My toddler will watch TV before we leave for school drop-off, a bit more if I need to get some work done, and then bit more while I’m preparing dinner or doing the housework. Before you know it that’s 2-3 hours and then some.

The Department of Health gives the following tips to reduce screen time:
• Make meal time your family time and turn off the TV
• Turn off the TV after the program has finished
• Set limits and have rules around screen time
• Make your kids’ bedrooms TV, computer and tablet free
• Limit the amount of children’s apps on your tablet / phone
• Play music or stories on CDs instead

Of all the above recommendations, I know our family can definitely implement better limits and rules around screen time. Screen time should be seen as a privilege and not a right, and my kids could benefit from some structure around screen time as currently we don’t monitor it well.

There are benefits to screen time, research shows that children’s learning from media can be greatly enhanced when parents and other adults join in and make it a shared experience. To make it a more enriching experience parents can:

• Watch together and talk about what you are viewing
• Ask questions to engage their thinking skills
• Use games and apps as an opportunity to teach persistence – when your child loses, acknowledge that games can be challenging and then help them think through how they might approach it differently
• Make the connection between the real world and the screen. After viewing a show about flowers, take a walk around the neighbourhood and discuss the flowers you see. Or use the issues / challenges TV characters face when your child faces a similar situation.

In our fast-paced world, screens have made parenting easier in certain situations. They shouldn’t be demonised or admonished, but as parents we should also be aware of the impact overuse can have, and research shows that overuse can cause behavioural problems, poor sleep habits and performance issues at school. Books, colouring-in activities, music, outdoor play and toys should not be replaced by screens. By being more aware of how much screen time our children engage in, we can make informed decisions about whether we are OK with that and if not, what we can do to change it.

Someone wise once said to me that as parents, when we know better we do better. Tomorrow is a new day!