As parents, we often wrestle with the question of how much screen time is too much for our kids. That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? And it's not an easy question to answer because screens can offer a lot of valuable learning and entertainment opportunities for our kids. But at the same time, we know that too much screen time can negatively affect our kid's development, wellness, and particularly their behaviour in many cases.
So what's the right amount of screen time? Is there such a thing even? Here are some tips and points for consideration to help you find a balance that works for your family because that's what matters at the end of the day.
What counts as screen time?
At the end of the day, you're the parent/guardian, so that's up to you to decide.
Kids not only seem to be using devices more and more, they seem to have more devices too. Whether it be access to:
- smart TVs
- video games
- the internet
- desktop computers
And since COVID-19 with many families undertaking schooling from home for many, many, many months, particularly if you're in Melbourne like us, our kids just seemed to be on their devices morning, noon, and night.
Plus with parents having to work from home and home school and keep their sanity, devices are an easy way to keep kids entertained. And let's face it, what kid has ever turned down a parent saying, "go use your device."
What's the "right" amount of screen time for our kids?
How much is too much screen time? Is there such a thing? If you asked your kids, they'd say no, of course.
Have you ever logged or tracked how much time you spend on your device, whether for work or socially? You might get a bit of a surprise yourself as it's easy for the minutes and hours to tick on by...
The current recommendation is no more than two hours of screen time per day for children in Australia. And with no screen time recommended for kids under two. (Let's hope they're not including ABC kids programs in that).
Depending on your kid's age, they probably do two hours of screen time at school, let alone when they get home. So, that makes it tricky too.
Does screen time affect kids mental health?
For some (not all), yes, it does.
Kids can become addicted to their screens quite quickly. When it comes to social media, kids like the dopamine surge they get from checking their accounts hundreds of times a day to see what's new or how many likes they've gotten on their latest post.
But the results of becoming addicted aren't pretty:
- poor focus
- lack of mental energy
- sleep problems
And that's just to name a few mental health problems kids can develop from overusing their screens.
How to reduce screen time for kids?
Ideally, use screen time in moderation. It sounds easy, doesn't it, but we say "ideally" as we like to keep it real. And let's face it, life doesn't go to plan. Sometimes things come up, we don't feel well, or sometimes we just need 30 minutes of peace.
And if to get that peace, you need to let your child have screen time. Then so be it! Mental health for all is essential.
The key is to remember if your children are using screen time in moderation along with other activities like playing outside or reading books, you can't go too wrong.
But some great ways to reduce screen time is to introduce some screen time rules:
- set limits and do this in conjunction with your child (depending on their age) as if they're involved in the process, they might be more receptive to it
- limit uses of digital devices and computer screens
- set app limits
- watching TV might need to be in the mix depending on what electronic devices your child is drawn too
Most devices have parental controls, so familiarise yourself with those if you haven't already.
Does screen time actually hurt your eyes?
"Get off your device. You'll hurt your eyes." Does that sound familiar. It's something us parents seem to say but is it actually true?
In a way, yes. The more we stare at a screen, the less we tend to blink, which dries our eyes out. And the more we stare at a flickering or moving action on the screen, the harder our eyes have to work.
And have you noticed how closely kids seem to hold their screens in front of their faces by default? It personally makes me shudder.
But the chances of permanent damage to our eyes are low. So, you can rest easy on that front. But maybe keep that little tidbit of info to yourself if dangling the carrot of "you’ll hurt your eyes” works with your kids.