How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

Lisa Wilkinson recently made some controversial comments about parents who let their children have ‘screen time’ under the age of five.

Wilkinson called these parents ‘crazy’ and said:

‘Come back to me when they’re 14 and they’re completely and utterly addicted to their screens, they have no social skills, that’s when you realise that what you did early has come back to bite you’.

Many parents have understandably been offended by Wilkinson’s comments.

Not only is the use of digital technology increasingly prevalent and useful in the adult world, but it’s also an important part of school curriculums — even in kindergarten.

And let’s be honest — the interactive and dynamic medium entrances kids, and can give parents some valuable time to get their own things done.

So what is the right amount of screen time for children, if any?

And how do we moderate their usage?

The debate is understandably diverse.

Let’s consider the purported downsides to ‘excessive’ screen time…

  • Research has shown that kids who spend too much time in front of screens risk health problems such as obesity and issues with posture.
  • The number of shortsighted children has almost doubled during the last five years, which has been attributed to the use of screens.
  • There has been a correlation between excessive screen time and reduced levels of enjoyment in other activities, such as outdoor exercise and imaginative play.
  • Many children who spend more time on electronic devices have reported feeling less energetic and fit.

On the flip side, the benefits and importance of screen time are equally significant.

  • For a start, digital literacy is crucial in many professional careers.
  • The use of digital technology will continue to increase momentum in educational settings, so a good grasp of these technologies will likely relate to improved academic performance.
  • Screen time has been shown to work well as a sedative and in calming kids down in anxiety-inducing situations, such as before surgery.
  • Some aspects of interactive, digital programs can enable greater learning, particularly in children with learning difficulties.

So given the prevalence and dependence on screen time in all facets of society, like with so many other things, is it not better to let kids get a grasp on these devices when they’re young?

The key to this dilemma, like everything, is balance, consistency and moderation.

It is impractical and incredibly difficult to completely limit the use of screen time in children.

But you can put parameters around their usage to mitigate the risks, and maximise the benefits.

A few tips:

  1. Set rules for ‘no screen time situations’ – such as at mealtime, in bed, before school or in the car. These times should be utilised for speaking with your children, discussing their day, preparing for their day and resting — not swiping, watching and tapping.
  2. Try to set daily limits — it’s okay to go over these limits every now and then when necessary, but treat this extra time as a privilege and not a given.
  3. Combine learning with screen time. Limit the use of simple games or videos and replace them with apps or programs with some educational basis.
  4. Make sure that screen time does not take precedence over or replace other important activities, such as exercise, outdoor activities, or reading.
  5. Create ‘no screen time zones’ — particularly bedrooms for young children. If the digital screen is going to consume their attention, at least allow them to do it in the living room or in a family setting, as opposed to in isolation in their room.
  6. Participate in screen time together! Research shows that using apps or playing digital games together can be beneficial, as it encourages dialogue and conversation — a vital element in the development of verbal skills.

So whatever your child’s screen time usage is — don’t despair.

There is no definitive answer as to how much screen time is too much (and the Australian recommended usage is continually being challenged, debated and updated).

What’s important is that screen time does not replace or supersede other important areas of emotional, physical and developmental learning.

If you’re worried that your child spends too much time on screens, try incorporating some of the above tips into their routine.

And if you are in Melbourne and would like some expert help  for your child?

Click the button below to book your initial parent consultation and get the right advice for your child’s needs.

Further Reading:

References:

  • Deutrom, R, ‘Australian children well and truly over recommended daily screen time’, The Courier Mail (2016)
  • Wells, P, ‘iPad screen time can be good for kids if parents get involved too, experts say’, The Sydney Morning Herald (2016)
  • Rather, S, ‘Screen time works as well as sedatives in calming kids down’, Mother Jones (2016)
  • Alison, G, ‘Most Australian children spend too much time glued to screens’, The Herald Sun (2016)
  • Tasker, B, ‘TV dominates screen time for kids: study’, News Limited (2016)

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