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“Screenagers”: Managing your Child’s Screen Time


Managing your child’s screen time is important for their wellbeing and education. Most young Australian’s exceed their recommended screen time use with only 15% of 5-12 year olds meeting the guidelines.

Research revealed that during COVID-19 lockdowns, young people were on their screens 35 minutes more on average.

What does ‘screen time’ mean?

‘Screen Time’ refers to the time spent using digital devices or looking at a screen.

This may include time on the iPad, TV, computer, phone or gaming console.

Types of screen time

Not all screentime is equal.

Dr Rosina McAlpine, Parenting Expert and CEO of Win Win Parenting segregates screen time into:

Recreational Screen Time

This is sedentary (sitting down) and includes texting, social media, gaming, TV and videos.

Educational

This screen time refers to things such as “TV documentaries, online research, educational videos, being online for education purposes.”

Managing your child’s screen time

Managing your child’s screen time can be a difficult task, particularly communicating with your teenager.

Dr McAlpine outlines 3 main aspects of screentime:

Screen Time depending on age

Dr McAlpine believes parents should consider the age of the child when looking at screen time.

The Australian Government provides guidelines for recreational screen time (not including school work).

“It is important to understand that not all screen time is equal – Limiting sedentary ‘recreational’ screen time to under the recommended guidelines protects children’s mental and physical wellbeing.”

What if my child uses more than the recommended screen time?

Dr McAlpine suggests that if children are going to have screen time, they should also have increased physical activity.

The negative impacts of increased screen time for children aged 5-17 can include:

School’s are also playing a large role in reducing excessive screen time.

Moderated screen time however, can have benefits for kids. For example, social media is a key way to connect with peers. Gaming has been linked to improved motor skills, coordination and stress management.

Educational screen time

Educational screen time is more difficult to limit.

Many school aged children have group chats for assignments, research online or use Microsoft apps for class and homework.

“Where possible – invite children to break up the time they are sitting with a break. Walk and stretch so they are not sitting for long periods of time” says Dr McAlpine.

Parents need to consider the total time children are “sitting” at screens as it can harm eye health and physical and mental wellbeing – swap screens for outdoor physical activities where possible.

Setting rules around screen time

In the same way parents protect their children in life for example when they are young crossing the road and when they are teens protecting them from harmful activities parents need to “protect” their children’s physical and mental well being when it comes to technology.

Safe screen time use

Online safety

A few ways to ensure your child is consuming safe media content includes:

“Remember, children can’t unsee something traumatic or inappropriate.”

Remember to look out for any signs your child is being cyberbullied.

5 tips for managing your child’s screen time

1. Role model screen time and get involved

Research shows a strong correlation between parents’ screen time and their children’s.

Participating in screen time together and engaging in conversation can encourage learning opportunities. This is also an easy way to monitor your child’s content.

2. Make sure screen time does not affect your child’s sleep pattern

Dr McAlpine advises melatonin needs to form in the brain for us to feel drowsy and sleep.

“Looking at bright lights – like a screen can be harmful to natural sleep patterns.”

She suggests:

3. Don’t just limit screen time

The best way to manage your child’s screen time is to balance your child’s day with other activities.

managing your child's screen time. child climbing in park.

Try and encourage or facilitate your child engaging in sports and hobbies. Research shows that physical activities support the use of screen time.

Other activities your child could try include scooter or bike riding, dancing, going to the park with friends or rock climbing.

4. Teach your child to self-regulate

Dr McAlpine suggests increasing your child’s awareness to assess:

How technology is affecting them

This includes monitoring themselves for any signs of addiction, and their mood during and after use.

Potential short term and long-term risks

Involving your child in decision making helps them find ways to use screen time safely and beneficially. Your child will begin to recognise the consequences of excessive screen time.

How to manage your child’s screen time

Be supportive, not controlling.

When communicating, try to be supportive while setting time and content screen time boundaries.

“Encourage creativity when using screens – produce & share work (novel, short story, photography, film, or other visual art) online eg: TeenInk.com & One-Story.com are two sites devoted to publishing teenage writers. Invite learning programming, animation, or app design courses.”

Screen time for older kids

Dr McAlpine recommends only managing your child’s screen until they are an age where they can regulate their own screen time.

“For older children help them learn the potential dangers of  inappropriate or excessive screen use.”

This may include making sure they have a good digital footprint or being safe online.

Summary:

Dr McApline summarises, parents should learn about digital safety and wellbeing to:

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