At a glance
- Set a screen time limit of no more than two hours a day.
- Busy kids are less likely to have screen time issues.
- Eliminate food and drink in front of the screen.
- Ask your child how they are going to spend their time so they get into the habit of planning their screen time.
Experts around the world agreed that setting a limit of no more than two hours a day was best, and children under two shouldn't have any screen time at all.
Today, with the growing number of tablet computer devices, students' ready access to laptops, an ever-increasing range of mobile applications (apps) for learning, gaming, pay-TV, movies on demand, e-books, digital textbooks and more – the question of what screen time means is far more complex.
So how can parents juggle the range of digital demands to help their children find a healthy balance?
What new research reveals The 2010 University of Bristol's PEACH project studied more than 1,000 British children aged 10 and 11, measuring the time children spent in front of a screen, as well as their psychological wellbeing. An activity monitor recorded the children's sedentary time and moderate physical activity. The results showed that more than two hours per day of both television viewing and recreational computer use led to lower mental health scores.
But unlike previous studies, the PEACH project showed that the time children spent on physical activity did not raise their psychological wellbeing. So irrespective of how active a child was, more than two hours of screen time per day was more likely to have a negative effect on their psychological wellbeing.
Screen time overload With new technologies the opportunities for entertainment and learning via screen-time has grown rapidly. Parents now have to juggle requests to borrow the e-reader to read a new novel, Facebook time to catch up with mates, some ‘down time' gaming on the Wii or playing World of Warcraft online – and that's without including study time on the computer.
But before you throw your hands up in despair, there are ways to take control of the screen time debate in your home.
Seven tips from the experts:
- You're the boss: some parents are hesitant to lay down the digital law and limit screen time, but the above research shows that it is in your child's interest to set limits.
- The two hour screen time grab: tell your child they have two hours per day and how they use that time is up to them so long as they don't go over the time limit (or set a lesser time limit if you prefer). This is similar to financial budgeting – you have $20, spend it as you see fit.
- Have a plan: ask your child how they are going to spend their time so they get into the habit of planning their screen time, as opposed to just letting it roll on.
- Watch the clock: have your child get in the habit of writing down when they started, and when they ended. Logging time helps everyone to see that the rules are being followed.
- Food and drink free zone: eliminate food and drink in front of the screen. Family time in front of a movie together can involve a bowl of popcorn or other treats, but eliminate this element during solo screen time.
- Physical time: make sure your child is getting regular physical activity, which can include an evening walk with the dog or scheduled sporting commitments. And even if your child opts to take their screen time in one two-hour hit, get them into the habit of getting up at the one hour mark and taking a 10-minute break.
- Hobbies and other pursuits: busy kids are less likely to have screen time issues and, in general, report being more fulfilled and interested in the world around them.