If you’ve got kids, chances are you spend more time than you’d prefer negotiating with them on a number of fronts – but screen time is probably one of the biggest. In today’s constantly evolving digital age, it’s near impossible to avoid TV screens, mobile phones, tablets, social networks, surfing the net, and computer games.
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. Here’s why …
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).
Why it’s a problem
Too much screen time can affect children’s health in a number of ways:
- Less physical activity
- Inactivity which can lead to obesity
- Poor sleeping patterns and routines
- Poor posture
- Deteriorating eyesight
- Poor diet and unhealthy snacking
- Poor social skills
- Difficulty making friends
- Reduced motivation
- Reduced self-esteem
- Reduced verbal interactions
- Language delays
What are the guidelines?
When kids and teens spend time in front of small screens – whether it’s the TV, computer or hand-held games, it takes away from the time they could spend playing sport, games or being active.
Australian guidelines recommend that kids and teens should minimise the time they spend being sedentary (still) every day. They recommend that under-2’s have no regular screen time at all, 2 to 5-year-olds have no more than one hour a day, and children aged from 5 to 17 years limit their screen time to no more than two hours per day. Long periods should also be broken up as often as possible.
While computers and TV can be valuable for education and learning, the health benefits, skills and enjoyment that kids and teens get from being physically active are just as important.
How to minimise screen time
Set some rules
Negotiate rules according to your children’s lifestyle, educational needs and their ages. Work out a schedule that strikes the right balance between screen time and active time each day, and set across-the-board-rules (which means parents, too!) such as no devices at meal times. Limit their usage to two hours per day (maximum).
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 definitely don’t allow them to have a TV or computer in their bedroom. Make use of tools like WiFi passwords etc. that will give you better control over how much and what your children can access online.
Encourage healthy behaviours
Encourage your kids to read, be physically active, partake 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.
Evening routines help families unwind from their busy days and will help children (especially younger ones) go to bed easier. Eating in front of the TV is also a no-no because it can lead to overeating and weight gain as children get older. 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. Evidence suggests that it definitely does work, so shut down that laptop, grab the kids and enjoy some time in the great outdoors for a change!
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.