Screen time is any time spent watching or interacting with TVs, computers, video games, tablets, and smartphones. It is commonly recommended that children’s screen time is limited daily, as it impacts upon wellbeing, learning, and development.
Screen time can positively influence a child, particularly when:
- The parent participates to assist the child in making good decisions about what games to play or things to watch
- Parents discuss what is happening in the game to help the child understand it
- Good content (e.g. educational games, movies promoting good ethics) is consumed during their time engaging with the screen
- Screen content can help a child broaden their idea for traditional play
- A child learns new skills from the screen content such as cooking skills, or video-editing skills.
Screen time is divided into (sometimes more than one) sub-categories:
Playing video games, communicating through video chat, using online tools to create content
- Not interactive
Watching movies, TV programs, or YouTube videos
Aids learning e.g. maths or problem solving video games
Playing games or watching screens for fun
Experts recommend a parent considers their child “digital nutrition”. This means rather than counting HOW MUCH we consume, we consider WHAT we consume. Screen time is not inherently harmful, but it is unmonitored screen time without “digitally nutritious” content that is. Restrictions should be placed on children based on their behaviour and personality.
Parents should always ensure they are:
- Aware of what a child is watching or playing
- That the reading/verbal content is of high quality
- The content is age-appropriate and safe
- They are participating/joining the child where possible
Some of the dangers or risks of excessive screen time includes physical, developmental, safety, and other risks.
- Physical Risks
Cause sore, irritated, and dry eyes, headaches, and fatigue.
Cause neck and spine discomfort
Prolonged periods of inactivity leads to less active lifestyles, and increases risk of obesity
- Development Risks
Delay a child’s language development and social skills due to insufficient real-life interactions required to develop these skills
May impair social skills including conversational skills, ability to maintain eye contact, attentional skills, and proficiency in reading body language.
May also decrease a child’s opportunity to develop interests and associated learning from these interests, or make friends
- Safety Risks
Increased exposure to dangerous individuals, mitigated by privacy settings or apps that your child uses
- Media Risks
Exposure to negative attitudes, stereotypical representations of gender, violent imagery or coarse language they see in advertising and other media.
Additionally, it has been well understood that the use of screen time to sooth/pacify children is concerning. This is because parents may develop a reliance on screens to calm or distract their child. This therefore exposes a child to the idea that unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions cannot be tolerated and reduces their stress capacity as they transition into adulthood.
The latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest that children:
- <18 months: avoid screen time, other than video-chatting
- 18 months – 2 years: Watch or use high-quality programs or apps if adults participate to explain content and themes
- 2 – 5 years: 1 hour or less of screen time daily with adults watching or playing with them
- 6 – 12 years: No more than 2 hours daily