Rapid advancements in technology across the last few decades have seen a corresponding increase in the use of apps and digital education tools at home and in the classroom.
While these new technologies offer a range of exciting new learning opportunities, many parents are also wary of the potential risks. Can too much screen time have an impact on a child’s general health and activity levels? Or even their brain development? And how much screen time is too much?
Some answers to these common and very understandable questions are discussed below.
Creating 'positive' screen time
So how much screen time is too much?
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that there’s no simple answer to this question, as everyone has different views and values, and technology comes in many different forms.
For example, your child may get more benefit from using an educational app for 30 minutes compared to watching television for just 15 minutes. Or consider your own mobile phone use. One day you may connect with relatives overseas and video chat for over an hour, while the next you may spend the same amount of time scrolling through social media! It can be tricky to assign value to these very different uses of technology.
However, that said, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) make the following recommendations for screen time in children:
Under 2 years: no screen time (except for video chatting)
2–5 years: less than 1 hour per day
As children continue to grow and develop, the scientific research suggests that it becomes increasingly important to focus on the quality of screen time, rather than setting hard time limits. It’s also important to switch off from technology on a regular basis, and to make sure your child isn’t sitting for long periods of time in the same position.
Sharing digital experiences as a family
As a parent, you play a key role in modelling behaviours and sharing knowledge with your child during early development — and this includes attitudes and experiences relating to technology.
Alongside steps to implement positive screen time, it’s also important to share positive technology experiences with your child. Take an educational app for instance. You could signal that this is a valuable digital activity by asking your child about the app, discussing learning topics and goals, and sitting with them while they complete the exercises. If it’s important to you, it will probably also become important to them.
Indeed, studies show that if your family views technology as a useful and enjoyable tool – and you share and communicate these views with your child – it’s more likely to become a positive part of your daily routine.
Tips for sharing digital experiences
Look for opportunities to discuss technology as a family
Switch off from technology when you’re spending time together on non-digital activities
Encourage your child to share and take turns when using digital devices
Talk to extended family members and teachers about your views on technology use
Promoting good health and wellbeing
It’s been well established that the ways in which we interact with technology impact on our health and wellbeing — perhaps most notably in the areas of physical activity, posture, vision, sleep and emotions.
But again, this is a complex area and it isn’t possible, or particularly helpful, to describe technology as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for your child’s health. Consider the example of a simple school quiz. Your child may sit inactive for the same period of time, and in a similar position, regardless of whether they are completing the quiz on a tablet or writing down answers in a notebook.
Additionally, studies have shown that digital game-playing can help children to concentrate for extended periods of time, and to develop skills such as persistence, resilience and self-confidence.
Tips for promoting health and wellbeing
Make sure your child takes regular breaks, including periods of physical activity
Create a comfortable space for using devices — consider your child’s posture, seat height, and both visual and reaching distance from a touch screen
Position screens in a suitable location that minimises glare and/or reflections
Avoid using devices in the bedroom, particularly in the hour before sleep or nap times
The good news is there is scientific evidence that demonstrates when children use technology for educational purposes, it has very few negative effects on their overall health and development. The key is to help ensure that your child is using technology in an appropriate and balanced way that works for your family.
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