How screen time effects development
As our world becomes more digital and connected online, our little ones daily habits will change. The exercise and amount of outdoor play we all enjoyed when we were young, isn't as common for todays children. Research published this year (2019) is uncovering the detrimental effects of high screen time, with one study showing higher screen time between the ages of 2 and 3 years of age was associated with delays in meeting developmental milestones at 3 and 5 years of age1. Research also showed clearly that less recreational screen time is better for avoiding obesity, and for promoting sleep, physical fitness, and cognitive, social and emotional development.
Current (2019) Technology Guidelines
With this new research in mind, its important to follow the latest Australian guidelines;
- Avoid screen time for children under 2 years, unless its video chatting.
- Only 1-2 hours of high quality programming for children 2 to 5 years2. The American Academy of Pediatrics only recommends 1 hour.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
Helpful tips for parents
Family guidelines should focus on:
- How often children have access to screens (you may choose to have screen-free days).
- How long children can use them for (splitting the time between different types of screen and using a limiting device such as a stop watch or screen lock as a control measure).
- What children can view (the quality of what your child is viewing is more important than the time spent).
Be a role model for your children
Screen time can be addictive for adults as well as children. Like all parenting decisions, its important to sit down with your family and together decide what is the habits you would like your children to learn and adopt. Children learn through modelling behaviour, so any decisions you make for your children need to be also followed by the adults in the house.
One of the main areas adults use devises is to fill in idle time. In this digital world, we feel uneasy 'not doing' or not being busy. We are constantly 'looking' up something or scrolling when we are waiting in lines, waiting at restaurants or even during ad breaks when watching TV. It is this subconscious behaviour and constant need to check that is all part of the addictive nature of devices. Show your children how to be patient and wait without entertainment or idle scrolling and subconsciously reaching for a device. Both are important skills to learn for all ages.
Safe & positive technology practices
Support your children to learn how to actively engage with technology in a purposeful manner to help kerb the development of addictive behaviours. Engage older children in the decision-making process of what good screen time looks and feels like for your family. Be very aware of how you engage with devices, where are they kept in the house and how that changes your behaviour to used them. And when you do use them, help your children understand what you are doing and why by talking out loud about your behaviours.
As your children get older and they start to use technology monitor what your children are accessing and use the activity as an opportunity to discuss what they are seeing and doing during screen time. Most of all, always make sure that screens are used in family/shared areas, and not in bedrooms. It is behind closed doors without support that children can easily lose track of time and spend too many hours using media and are at a higher risk of falling victim to online dangers.
Children will grow to use screens in ways we cannot even conceive at this time. Just like our parents experience, technology is continue to completely change the way we interact with each other and the world around us. By consciously supporting our children to see the benefits and pitfalls of technology and teaching them on how to be engaged and active line life away from screens, we are setting them up with habits and skills that will serve them for the years to come.
1. Association between screen time and children’s performance on a developmental screening test. Madigan, Sheri, et al. " JAMA Pediatrics 173.3 (2019): 244-250.
2. Sydney's Children's Hospital Network Screen time and children - https://www.schn.health.nsw.gov.au/fact-sheets/screen-time-and-children