Almost every parent will agree that the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” couldn’t be truer. But many parents lack the family and community support that was once essential to raising children, while past events like the COVID-19 pandemic have further reduced access to both informal and formal childcare services in Sydney and NSW. Understandably, many parents rely on screen time, in the form of TV or games on tablets or phones in order to keep their children occupied, particularly during times when access to outdoor activities is limited. But while carefully planned access to educational or age-appropriate screen time can be healthy and even beneficial for children, too much screen time can have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. So how much screen time is too much?
The Australian government has released official guidelines for screen time for young people which is based on a review of research findings on the effects of physical activity, sleep and sedentary time (including screen time) on children’s development, health and wellbeing. The guidelines are different depending on the age of your child:
While the government’s recommendations represent the ideal, it will come as no surprise to most parents that the reality currently looks quite different for many families.
A recent study found that the majority of Australian children are spending more than 2 hours per day on screens. By age 4-5, on average children are having more than 2 hours screen time per day and by the time they reach their teens, this increases to more than 3 hours on a weekday and almost 4 hours on weekends. Estimates indicate that only around 17-23% of pre-schoolers and 15% of 5-12 year olds are meeting the Australian screen time guidelines.
While for many families, the screen time guidelines may seem difficult to meet, the reason they are in place is that the research indicates a number of possible negative outcomes for children who exceed the screen time limits.
For pre-schoolers, excess screen time can have a negative impact on:
What’s more, excessive screen time during early childhood has also been associated with problems further down the line including problems with emotional regulation and family functioning.
For older children (5-17 years) excess screen time can have a negative impact on:
While not all research agrees, the general findings of research into screen time for children are that excessive screen time has negative effects in both the short and the long term.
While there’s no need to cut out screens altogether, it can be helpful to form healthy habits around screen use for the whole family to prevent negative effects on your child’s health and wellbeing. Some healthy screen habits include:
Parenting is hard work and everybody needs a break sometimes. While screen time can be a useful tool to keep your kids occupied, you can also get creative with screen-free alternatives. Some ideas include:
If you need to talk to our educators about screen time alternatives, talk to your local childcare centre and see how we can help. Our educators can work with you and your children on decreasing screen time.