Tuesday, 02 Dec 2014

Worried about screen time?

The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card which ranks the physical activity of Australian kids against 14 other nations, found 80% of children between 5-17 years of age were not getting daily exercise.

While there are a number of reasons for this, one undeniable factor is the rise of ‘screen time’. Not only are there more screen devices available than ever before (TVs, computers, smart phones, tablets, phablets and electronic readers), it seems that Aussie kids are spending more time than ever in front of these devices.

This increase in children’s screen time has a lot of parents and carers understandably worried. Is there a risk that screen time can hinder or hurt child development? And just how much is too much screen time?

Given that a lot of these devices are new and have in many instances, been around for less than a decade, it’s hard to know for sure what the long-term effects can or might be. There simply hasn’t been enough time to thoroughly research this.

However, a growing volume of research is seeming to suggest that screen time for children and young people should be limited.

Below are several perspectives from professionals regarding the effects of screen time on children and young people:

Dr John Wray

Dr John Wray is the Western Australian senior health clinical advisor to the Child Development Service. He recommends that 2-5 year olds should spend less than one hour a day in front of a screen.

"The content of even educative material on the television is probably better introduced to children through a real life human being," he said. "The evidence particularly in very young children is overwhelmingly in favour of zero television content."

Children aged from 5-17 should not be staring at screen-based entertainment for more than two hours a day, while those aged up to two should not be exposed at all, Dr Wray said.

Dr Trina Hinkley

Dr Trina Hinkley of Deakin University led an Australian research study of more than 3000 children aged 2 to 6. Her findings suggest that electronic media use like watching television, using computers and playing electronic games leading to poorer mental well-being.

Interestingly, Dr Hinkley found that even educational video games might be harmful. “There is currently no evidence that any form of electronic media is beneficial to young children”, she said. “This includes any product marked as educational”.

Dr Hinkley recommends that parents should aim to expose their young children to electronic media as little as possible. “It is really important for children's health, growth and development that electronic media use is minimised as much as possible," she said.

“Some simple ideas include having a grab bag of special toys that only come out at those times parents most need a break. This can be used instead of electronic media when parents are occupied with other tasks, such as preparing dinner.”

Dr Kristy Goodwin

Dr Kristy Godwin offers a slightly different, counter perspective to parents who might be feeling stressed or shamed that their kids are spending too much time on screens, in particular TV.

Dr Godwin suggests that when it comes to TV, there is an argument for focusing as much on quality as quantity. “Children’s capacity to benefit from watching TV depends on parents selecting educational content that’s age-appropriate. We know kids really benefit when they watch TV with parents. It stops them from being passive and zoning out.”

At the end of the day, there are still many unknowns when it comes to the long-term effects of screen time on children and young people. However, it is important to be aware of the current information, to help you make the right choices for you and your family.

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