The battle of kids and screen time — how much is too much?

It’s the battle that every parent now has to face, and it’s only getting more and more difficult — managing kids’ screen time.

When we were growing up, it was just the TV. Now there’s phones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles and who-knows-what-else to compete with, it can be incredibly difficult to keep an eye on the amount of time our kids spend in front of screens.

If you left them to it, some kids wouldn’t do anything else. But how many tears, tantrums and protruding bottom lips can you cope with over digital devices — and is it all worth it?

In Australia, we take our lead from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently updated its guidelines on screen time for kids.

The Australian Guidelines

  • In Australia, it’s recommended that children younger than 2 have no routine daily screen time. This is hugely important for brain development and healthy parent-child connections. There have also been links to the later development of ADHD, however more research is needed.
  • For 2 to 5 year olds, screen time should be limited to one hour of quality programming per day.
  • For children aged 6 to 17, parents should determine the time restrictions and monitor the types of digital media their children use. It’s recommended to be no more than 2 hours of recreational screen time per day.

The drawbacks of screen time

  • Obesity — too much screen time is one of the biggest contributing factors to our obesity epidemic. Children are naturally full of energy and have an inborn need to be active, but they need to be still to use devices. This increases their risk of obesity, which in turn can lead to diabetes, joint problems and even heart disease.
  • Sleep deprivation — kids need to sleep 10-12 hours on average, but screen time is shaving off hours of this much-needed development time. Children who sleep with electronic devices in their bedroom get less sleep than those who leave the devices in another room. This is partly because of blue light emissions, which trick their brains into thinking it’s daytime and they should be awake.
  • Loss of social skills — kids who spend too much interacting with an electronic device and have limited face time with people lack the social skills, people skills and the ability to interact with others. This can impact every aspect of their lives – employment, romance, friendships and general social interactions.
  • Vision problems — being constantly glued to screens is causing eye strain and creating vision problems further down the track. Also, for very young children to develop depth perception they need to look at real 3D objects, not 2D objects on a screen.
  • Poor fine motor skills — for kids to develop fine motor skills, they need to manipulate 3D objects through activities like painting, drawing and modelling with clay, rather than just swiping and pinching.
  • Violent or negative thoughts and behaviour — most of the drawbacks of video games stem from violent games, which have been shown to increase aggressive thoughts and behaviours.
  • Disturbing content — when kids watch TV, they don’t see the same things adults do. They can be negatively affected by scary, violent or sexualised images. The same applies to computers – it’s worth installing programs or filters to block access to inappropriate content.

The benefits of screen time

Don’t get me wrong, technology can have a hugely positive impact on our kids. However, it’s all about choosing the right screens for the right amount of time.

  • Computers are part of daily life — they can be used to research information, develop ideas and create images, music or videos.
  • The internet is now a part of building social networks, but it’s important that children learn to ask questions about what they find on the internet.
  • Video games have been shown to improve problem-solving and logic, hand-eye coordination, fine motor and spatial skills, multi-tasking, and even planning and logistics. The best way for children to get the most from video games is for you to play together!

What you can do about it — develop quality relationships with

As a parent of two (fairly) grown up kids, I’ll be the first to admit that the challenge is much greater for parents now than it was when my kids were younger. But together with my wife, Dayna, we discovered the secret to healthy screen time starts with developing a healthy relationship with your kids.

The quality of any relationship you have, particularly with your children, is determined first and foremost by the amount of time you spend together.

Here are a few ways we managed to spend quality time:

  • Driving – when our children were younger, and even now, Dayna always said the best conversations had were whilst travelling in the car where there were no distractions and you could talk freely to them about their day and any challenges they faced.
  • Dinner – having dinner together at the table every night is also a great time to listen and relate to what is happening in our children’s lives.
  • Regular family holidays – to this day we still schedule regular holidays together. This time is so important because there’s no work or school, everyone wakes up together, activities are usually more physical and a lot of life skills are learnt. Things like preparing a meal together, learning how to be water safe, camping skills and learning to make their own fun. These skills will be with them for life and will be passed on to the next generation!
  • Reading – teaching your children the pleasures of reading is a life-long gift. It allows their imagination to grow as well as being an amazing tool to be able to switch off from the pressures and pace of our lives. Your children will only grow to love reading if they see you setting an example. Try having your own family book club where you can discuss the contents and even share the reading, or try encouraging kids to read every night before bed, particularly when they are younger.

Developing healthy screen time habits

Just like developing a healthy relationship with your kids, creating healthy screen time habits starts when they are young. You can help your kids by:

  • Setting screen time guidelines according to the ages of children in your family.
  • Leading by example, limiting your own screen time. This is so important.
  • Offering variety and making sure you have a range of activities and objects to entertain and stimulate your children so they don’t look to the screen so much.
  • Being choosy about what your younger children watch or play on the computer, and taking an interest in what your older children are doing online.
  • Keeping TVs, computers and other devices in family spaces and out of children’s bedrooms.
  • Turning the TV off before school and at dinnertime.
  • Turing all devices off at least 90 minutes before bedtime.

Is your kid always sick? Do you suspect he/she has a food intolerance? Difficulty concentrating? Gut problems?

Click here to download our free guide containing tips and advice on naturally managing your kid’s health, including foods and additives to avoid, boosting their immune system, managing screen time, and what to feed your kids for better health.

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