Much has been made in the media over recent years regarding the importance of reducing screen time for younger children.
This is a significant challenge that in many ways, has been further highlighted across the last 24 months with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us into Remote Teaching and Learning programs, lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Unfortunately, there is no magic number when it comes to the total hours of screen time allowed or recommended. Additionally, suggestions made often vary based on age group and are not the same for each child. So, whilst it is important to look at the amount of time our children are spending on their devices (quantity), we also need to consider the quality of their device experiences, and nature of their screen interactions.
Australian parenting website, www.raisingchildren.net.au has a handy checklist for parents to use as a guide when discussing a healthy approach to screen time. There are a number of questions that parents are encouraged to ask themselves, including whether or not their child is:
- sleeping enough?
- physically healthy?
- engaged with school?
- connecting socially with family and friends, online and offline?
- enjoying a variety of hobbies and interests?
- doing physical activity every day?
- having fun and learning while using screens?
- using quality content?
If the answer is yes to most or all of these, it is intimated that your child is likely using screens in a balanced way as part of a healthy lifestyle. The website includes various information and suggestions for parents who have questions or concerns about screen time which can be found here: Screen Time: Checklist for Healthy Use.
One way to reduce screen time as recommended by Robyn Papworth, Exercise Physiologist, is to turn ‘bored’ into ‘board’ by introducing board games into your family’s regular activity routine. Board games are great for encouraging young children to develop their, patience, resilience, problem solving and fine motor skills without them even noticing. Robyn suggests games such as ‘Mouse Trap’ and ‘Naughts and Crosses’ for children aged 4 - 6, ‘Uno’ and ‘Sushi Go’ for children 6 - 8 years old and ‘Rummy-O’ for students 8 years and above. There are many more appropriate, fun, and engaging board games to be enjoyed by children and their families and I would encourage parents to explore this concept further to find some additional games that may be of interest.
Another important facet of screen time is understanding being watched or played and how these experiences may affect our children. The eSafety Commission discusses the importance of helping your child achieve a healthy balance in their online and offline activities via Time Online | eSafety Commissioner.
Here, they suggest some key signs to consider which include whether or not a child is experiencing:
- less interest in social activities like meeting friends or playing sport
- poor school performance
- tiredness, sleep disturbance, headaches, eye strain
- changes in eating patterns
- reduced personal hygiene
- obsession with websites or games
- extreme anger when being asked to take a break from online activity
- anxiety or irritability when away from the computer
- a sense of withdrawal from friends and family
The eSafety website also provides a handy list of screen time tips to assist parents.
As a school community, we constantly seek opportunities with students to discuss appropriate online experiences. We often refer students to the eSafety Guide (The eSafety Guide | eSafety Commissioner) as it includes information about the games, apps and social media platforms that might be appropriate for their relevant age group.
Games, apps and social media platforms are given a classification or ‘minimum age recommended’ to assist children and parents with the suitability of their audiences based on factors such as language, violence and other matters typically deemed unsuitable for children or adolescents. If the amount of time our children spend online is negatively impacting their wellbeing, relationships, or responsibilities, it is likely that they need to cut back.
As parents, the conversations we have with our children regarding screen time and online behaviour change as our children get older. So too does the opportunity to include the children themselves into these open and honest discussions.
The Raising Children Network also includes some helpful guidelines and suggestions in their Managing Screen Time: Strategies for Teens resource, whilst various Government health websites include recommendations for screen time limits based on age, along with suggestions on how parents can limit screen time and online experiences.
Like any decision we make for and with our children, it is reassuring to know that there is support out there and assistance for those who require it.
This week I think we will play a board game or two…after homework is completed of course!