Yes, watching TV, playing on an iPad and surfing the web can be entertaining and, sometimes, even educational, but too much time sitting in front of a screen can be bad for your health.
It’s important to maintain a balance between screen time and physical activity to ensure your teen is in the best physical and mental health they can be.
The effects of too much screen time
Research shows that as their recommended level of physical activity decreases (only one in five teens are getting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day), the level of a teen’s exposure to screen time increases substantially. This is concerning because it can have both physical and mental effects.
The possible physical effects of too much screen time and sedentary (still) behaviour range from poor posture, headaches and deteriorating eyesight, to weight gain due to unhealthy snacking and a range of sleep problems that can affect a teen’s physical reflexes and school performance.
The mental effects of too much screen time include everything from social isolation, mood swings and poor concentration, to memory impairment, risk-taking behaviour and an increase in ‘sick days’ and truancy. Teens can also be exposed to potentially harmful material and build unhealthy psychological habits that they can continue into their adult lives.
How much is too much?
It is recommended that young people spend no more than two hours a day sitting in front of a small screen (e.g TV, computer or a tablet).
Almost half of 12 to 15-year-olds in Queensland exceed the recommended two hours of screen-based activity per day.
Tips for limiting screen time
Encourage physical activity
Encourage your teen to exercise, play sport or try a new activity – anything that helps them feel good, be healthy and have fun. Suggestions include cycling, skateboarding, rock-climbing, netball, bushwalking, dancing, surfing, martial arts or participating in a charity fun run. Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Educate your teen about the media
Discuss how exposure to some media can be detrimental, and think of ways you can both become an informed viewer and listener. Establish rules that will keep your teen safe and encourage them to make good choices when it comes to video games, mobile apps and TV and computer time.
Make screen time a privilege
Make sure your teen does homework first before they switch on the TV or computer, and make it clear that screen time needs to be earned and that it can be taken away at any time.
Yes, they’re probably great at it, but multitasking should be discouraged. Discuss how doing multiple things at once (like texting and doing homework) can actually interfere with their productivity.
No electronics during mealtimes
Turn off the TV and don’t allow any computer time or phone texting while you’re eating. Instead, encourage ‘family time’, where you talk about the day and raise any concerns that may need discussing (including talking about screen time rules!)
Have screen-free days
Have a screen-free day every once in a while where everyone turns everything off. Instead, plan a fun family activity or a meal out that doesn’t involve screens of any kind.
Limit (or ban!) screen time in the bedroom
The overuse of screen time and the stimulation that comes with it can significantly affect the amount and quality of your teen’s sleep, and make it difficult for them to get out of bed in the morning. This is because exposure to ‘blue light’ throws out our body clock, which keeps our sleep cycles in check. Limit TV watching to shared areas, and encourage your teen to switch off their phone before bed.
Be a good role model
Most importantly, be a healthy role model. Telling your teen to shut down their electronics while you’re sitting in front of the TV or on your smartphone won’t be effective. It’s important to limit your own screen time and encourage your teen to switch off and get active instead!