As the mother of two children aged 13 and 8, like many parents I’ve wrestled with the question of ‘how much screen time is too much?’ and ‘how do I moderate their usage?’ This is particularly difficult given the use of digital technology is increasingly prevalent and useful in today’s society, and it’s also an important part of the school curriculum.
According to research (Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services), there are certainly downsides to ‘excessive’ screen time.
Some of these include:
- Kids who spend too much time in front of screens risk health problems such as obesity and issues with posture.
- The number of short-sighted children has almost doubled during the last five years, which has been attributed to the use of screens.
- There has been a correlation between excessive screen time and reduced levels of enjoyment in other activities, such as outdoor exercise and imaginative play.
- Many children who spend more time on electronic devices have reported feeling less energetic and fit.
On the flip side, however, the benefits and importance of screen time are equally significant:
- For a start, digital literacy is crucial in many professional careers.
- The use of digital technology will continue to increase momentum in educational settings, so a good grasp of these technologies will likely relate to improved academic performance.
- Screen time has been shown to work well as a sedative and in calming kids down in anxiety-inducing situations (e.g. following accidents, or when in hospital)
- Some aspects of interactive, digital programs can enable greater learning, particularly in children with learning difficulties.
The key to this dilemma, is balance, consistency and moderation and there are many aspects to take into account including the maintenance of mental and physical health; fulfilling school and family duties and ensuring that young people develop a complete set of real world communication skills.
In a recent blog on Parenting Ideas, titled ‘Balancing Your Child’s Digital Diet’, Martine Oglethorpe suggested that parents should make decisions about the amount of time their children spend on screens by taking the following factors into account. This will help ensure children live a balanced life where screen time isn’t the priority.
- Sleep:It’s super important that kids are getting a good night’s sleep. Keeping devices out of the bedroom when they are young, and avoiding the screens for at least an hour before bed, helps ensure their sleep needs are met.
- Boredom: Today’s kids don’t tend to get as much time to be bored as kids used to. It is an important skill to be able to fill in their time themselves. Bored time promotes creative play and thinking as kids are forced to come up with other ways to amuse themselves.
- Connection:Face-to-face interaction is obviously crucial for children’s social and emotional development and wellbeing. Time with friends, siblings and family members must always be a priority. Learning to engage, problem solve and read body language and facial expressions are all crucial skills that need real-life time and experience to develop.
- Physical activity:A healthy body and mind requires activity and movement. Kids still love to get out and play. However, some may need a bit more encouragement to remind them.
- Reflection:Whilst having screen time may be described by many kids as their downtime (and yes, there is some validity to this argument) kids also need downtime that involves doing very little. It is in these moments of reflection, of thinking and of pondering, that our ideas come to us and our creativity for other activities flows.
- Focus:There are times of the day when all of us need to be focused on other tasks. These may be homework, chores, reading a book or the newspaper, building something or making something. There needs to be time in kids’ days where they are able to focus solely on a task without the distractions of a screen.
- Family meals:Getting plenty of good food is of course very important to kids’ wellbeing. But it’s not just about the food. Sitting at the table with parents, siblings or others, focusing on enjoying a meal together without the need of a screen, helps children to develop good habits while they are young which they can carry into the future.
Our overall aim as parents in managing our child’s screen time should be to ensure our kids grow up with a healthy respect for their screens and a healthy respect for the many areas of their life that need to be nurtured.
Considering these factors has been helpful to me in making decisions about when I think it’s OK for my children to be on screens and when I’ve told them their screens need to go away. I hope it’s helpful for you too.
Mrs Vicki Gunning / Head of Junior School