Screen Time & Your Child: What you need to know

We’re living in a digital age and there are many benefits to that, but there’s a rising concern about the amount of time we spend in front of screens. It’s one thing to spend your day in front of a computer for work, but what about your children? How much screen time is reasonable on a daily basis, and what are some of the risks associated with excessive screen time?

What is screen time?

Screen time refers to the amount of time we spend in front of any screen. This can be anything from a desktop computer, laptop, IPad or tablet, to mobile phones. It also includes television, watching movies and playing computer console games. We engage with screens for many different reasons including:

  • Interactive – playing games, talking via messaging apps etc
  • Non-interactive – watching television, movies or online videos
  • Educational – engaging with educational apps, games or doing research
  • Recreational – social media use, shopping, reading articles on websites

How much screen time should I allow my child to have?

Children are engaging with technology from a much younger age than ever before. Many toddlers are confident using an IPad, and it’s easy to hand them a device to watch a movie. Most parents aren’t too concerned about this, as they are able to control and moderate how much time their young children spend in front of screens.

As children get older, their screen time increases and as a parent, you can’t always moderate this. Most teenagers have a tablet, mobile phone, or games console, and it’s a known stereotype across our society that they will spend most of their time glued to one screen or another.

So how much screen time is reasonable? Current guidelines issued by the Australian Department for Health suggest the following:

  • Children under 18 months old – Avoid screen time altogether, with the exception of communication apps such as Facetime or Skype.
  • Children aged 18 months to 2 years – Limited screen time for watching high-quality programs or films, and always with adult supervision.
  • Children aged 2 to 5 years – No more than one hour of screen time a day, and always with adult supervision. With the exception of school-related educational tasks or high-quality programs.
  • Children aged 6 and above – It is recommended that parents agree to time limits related to usage that are enforced and children are aware of why this is

It’s always worth staying up-to-date on these guidelines and you can find full details on the Department of Health’s website here.

What are the risks of excessive screen time?

Excessive screen time has been associated with a variety of physical, development and safety risks. That’s why it’s important to know how much screen time is reasonable.

Physical risks include things like:

  • Eye strain including sore, irritated and dry eyes, leading to headaches
  • Poor posture when using devices which can lead to neck and spine ailments
  • Long periods of inactivity are strongly linked to obesity, fatigue and other emotional development concerns

Developmental risks for children include things like:

  • Detrimental impact on children’s language development
  • Lower levels of social skills and ability to engage socially
  • Increase in poor emotional experiences such as stress and anxiety and lower emotional competence

Additional risks with screen time come from children having access to unsuitable material on the internet. It’s very important to make sure you instigate full parental controls and safety precautions before allowing young children access to devices that connect to the internet. Have a read of the Australian Government’s advice on internet safety for young children here.

What can you do?

It’s important to remember that screen time is not all bad, there are equally some great benefits to our digital age, especially for children. Make sure that the majority of screen time is used for high-quality activities and keep recreational activities to agreed time limits.

Lead by example and take a break from screens yourself. Engaging your children in outdoor and fun activities in the home will show them why taking a break from screens is a great idea.

More to come on how to help children manage screen time…

For more information contact Ivan Mathieson and Dr Sophie Banfield

03 9481 1944