Screen time: how much is right?

by Ramya Manoharan | Mar 06, 2017

children and technology

“Childhood health and wellbeing is declining because of excess screen time,” says one news headline. “Australian children increasingly glued to screens: study,” informs another. To add to it, many parents are now claiming that screen time and how to control it has replaced homework and healthy eating as a parent’s main concern. 

Indeed, the ASG Parents Report Card shows that nearly two thirds of parents believe their children are spending too much time using screen-based devices. The report says that more than one third of parents admit that they don’t always know what their child is watching, while more than half (55 per cent) of parents struggle to limit their screen time. 

But, before we go into a moral panic over how technology affects our children’s behaviour and development, let’s take a step back to analyse whether technology is something we can banish from our lives or our children’s, for that matter, and interestingly whether we will need to.

Some parents are coming to the defence of technology in the hands of children. A mother of a teenager recently claimed that her son’s online activity has helped him overcome anxiety. The parent said that it has helped him fit in with his peers and become more sociable. One parent has said that not allowing her children internet access combined with lots of outside play has helped them ‘master the art of conversation’.

Other parents are more neutral in their view: saying that the kind of online activity and whether time spent in front of the screen is balanced with an equal amount of outdoor activity should define whether screen time is healthy or not.

Roslyn Richie, mother of a 10 year old, says that her full time job and her child’s hectic schedule of school, after school and extracurricular activities has made it difficult for them to spend quality time with each other. Her daughter came up with a solution. They now make it a point to spend 10 - 15 minutes solving a Bonza word puzzle on the iPad. “We goof around a lot while putting our heads together. And, each time we crack a puzzle we yell ‘Bonza’. We both look forward to it at the end of each day,” Roslyn said.

Others feel they don’t have a choice, as schools have made their classrooms technology-enabled right from primary school.

With convincing arguments on both sides of the opinion spectrum as to whether technology should be a part of our children’s lives or not, the question to consider then is how much screen time is right for your child. Long deliberations by digital and child activists, taking into consideration the concerns of parents and child behavioural psychologists, have not been able to find a solution to this question. It is now universally accepted that the way to figure this out is to come up with guidelines based on research.

ASG’s free webinar on 'screen time: how much is right' delved deep into how and when children spend time online, and came up with recommendations on how much screen time is permissible for children in different age groups.

To reduce the health risks associated with screen time, the recommendation is that:

  • Children under two years get no screen time
  • Children aged two to five years get less than one hour of screen time a day
  • Children and teenagers in the five to 17 age group get less than two hours of screen time a day

    However, research has shown that 63 per cent of young people in Australia, between eight and 18 years, get more than the recommended two hours a day of screen time.

    Michelle Webster, Business Development Manager of The Alannah & Madeline Foundation, said, “Parents need to consider if their child’s screen time is impacting their real life. If the answer is yes, then they need to explore interventions starting with in home practices, such setting limits, role modelling and supervision, and if the problem continues seeking external support.” 

    She says parents have a key role to play in balancing their children’s time online as 91 per cent of online time takes place at home.

    For further resources, check out:

  • Balancing time online resources by Australia’s Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner
  • Balancing screen time by Telstra.
  • YMCA’s A Parent’s Guide to Gaming.

Members can access a recording of the free webinar on screen time on My ASG till the end of March 2017.

Please join us for our next webinar on cyber bullying: what parents should know on Tuesday, 28 March. Register here for free. 

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