For healthy growth and development in childhood, it’s important to balance recreational screen time with other activities like being active, socialising, and creative play.
Nearly half of all Australian children aged between 5 and 15 years spend more than two hours every day on ‘small screen’ entertainment.
Yes, screens can be entertaining (and even educational), but it’s important that we limit the amount of time spent glued to the box or on a hand-held device because it can be hazardous to your kids’ health.
What is screen time?
Screen time refers to the time spent watching screens of all shapes and sizes – TVs, computer monitors, handheld video games or using tablets or smartphones. It can be interactive (like playing hand-held computer games) or non-interactive (like watching a movie or YouTube video).
How to minimise screen time
Set some rules
Negotiate rules according to your child’s lifestyle, educational needs and age. Work out a schedule that strikes the right balance between screen time and active time each day. Set family-wide rules (which means parents too!) such as no devices at meal times. Limit their usage to two hours per day (maximum).
Stick to time limits
Set a timer for 20 – 30 minutes so your child knows when to take a break from sitting. Give your child a 5-minute warning before their screen time is up. Set boundaries so your child knows what to expect. You may wish to try apps that can lock a device once the time limit has been reached.
Know what your children are watching and playing
Take an interest in your children’s screen-based activities and stay aware of what they’re doing and how long they’re spending on different activities. Insist they use their devices where you can see them, regularly monitor what they’re looking at, and don’t allow TVs and computers in bedrooms.
Make use of tools like WiFi passwords that will give you better control over how much and what your children can access online. Try turning off the WiFi at night so teenagers aren’t on their devices when they should be sleeping.
Screen time can reduce sleep quality in many ways.
Using electronic devices can delay bedtime, keep the mind busy, and disrupt the body’s natural circadian (sleep/wake) rhythm. These factors make it harder to get good quality sleep.
Support better sleep habits by shutting down devices at least an hour before bedtime and keeping them out of the bedroom.
Encourage healthy behaviours
Encourage your kids to read, be physically active, take part in creative play like drawing and music and enjoy social time with both family and friends. Draw up a list of indoor and outdoor games or activities for your children, so that you can suggest alternatives to watching TV or playing on the computer.
Have your child ‘earn’ screen time for activities like doing their household chores, completing homework, and playing outside. For example, your child could earn five minutes of screen time when they stack or unstack the dishwasher, another five minutes for making their bed, until they reach their agreed-upon total screen time each day.
Evening routines help families unwind from their busy days and will help children (especially younger ones) go to bed easier. Eating in front of a screen can stop kids from recognising when they are full, which can lead to overeating. Enjoy meal times together at the dining table and use it as an opportunity to share news and reconnect before bedtime.
Be a good role model
Be aware of your own screen use and be a good role model. Some families find that everyone participating in a ‘phone fast’ for an hour each day can be a good way of breaking screen time habits. In a ‘phone fast’ everyone commits to not using their phone for a period of time each day, for example from 6-7pm each evening.
Shut down that laptop, turn off the TV, grab the kids and enjoy some time in the great outdoors!
Did you know?
Up to 45% of eight-year-olds spend more than two hours a day on screen time, while the figure jumps to almost 80% in 16 year olds. That’s a whole lot of kids missing out on the essential physical activity, outdoor-time and social interactions needed to ensure a healthy lifestyle.