According to Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, children under the age of two should have no regular screen time, while children aged two to five years should spend no more than one hour per day in front of a screen, and children aged between five and 17 years, no more than two hours.
However, as the use of screens and devices continues to seep into our daily lives in more and more capacities, is it time to rethink these recommendations? Or does the fundamental problem still lie with screen use?
A group of researchers from The University of Western Sydney recently surveyed more than 2,600 school children across more than 30 schools about their screen use. They found that 45 per cent of 8-year-olds spent more than two hours per day using screens, while the figure jumped to 80 per cent in 16 year olds.
It is therefore clear that the recommendations for screen use are generally not adhered to in today’s digital age, and according to Professor Stephen Houghton, the study’s lead author, these guidelines need an overhaul; ‘screens are essential in today’s world. They are part and parcel of young people’s worlds.’
Haughton suggested that, rather than focusing on limiting screen time, we need to look at educational versus non-educational and home versus school use.
Conversely, Professor Jo Salmon, from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University, does not think the guidelines should be disregarded just because they are hard; ‘screen time can affect kids’ health and the current guidelines are based around evidence of health impacts in a number of areas.’
Regardless of which view you take, monitoring your children’s screen time is important, and encouraging physical activity over screen time is more beneficial for your child’s overall health. While it can be challenging to navigate the digital environment and you may feel frequently engaged in a battle with your kids to ditch the screen, all is not lost in getting your children off their – or just as likely, your – devices.
Professor Michael Rosenberg from the University of Western Australia, offered advice for managing screen time, including implementing specific rules such as ‘no devices at meal times or in bedrooms overnight’. He also recommends taking into account the different needs of each child and negotiating rules individually.
Another important aspect in monitoring screen time is awareness. Rosenberg encouraged parents to take an interest in their children’s screen-based activities and have awareness of what they are doing and how long they are spending on different activities. He also advised using tools that give you a greater degree of control over what your children can access, download and buy online.
Above all, it is important to encourage your children to be physically active and to socialise with their friends in real life. Be a role model for your children and take note of your own screen use; set a good example by leading a healthy and active lifestyle that your children can look up to.