As a children’s technology, learning and development researcher one of the most common questions I’m asked relates to “screen-time”.
It’s something we all grapple with as parents and educators too.
So in this post I discuss why the “how much screen-time” question is not as important, as two other questions.
How much is too much? Is there a safe amount of screen-time for kids?
Yes, we do have some screen-time recommendations in Australia and America. These guidelines are based predominantly on research regarding TV and other forms of “passive” technology.
What are the guidelines?
Below is a summary of the current screen-time guidelines for Australia (current) and America (until October 2015).
What’s wrong with these recommendations?
- They’re outdated- They aren’t necessarily in line with what’s happening. A new study called ‘Virtually Impossible’ found that 45% of 8 year olds to 80% of 16 year olds exceeded the recommended < 2 hours per day for Screen-based media use. So you’re not alone if your child isn’t adhering to these limits.
- They’re based on passive use of media (i.e. TV and DVDs)
- They classify “all” screen-time as “passive” and “non-productive” (and I refute this claim. Have you watched how engaged a 5 year-old is when creating a digital story on an iPad?)
- They lull parents into a false sense of security- because we focus on an amount and not necessarily what they’re watching or when they’re watching it.
- We miss other really important considerations (such as what and when they’re using screens).
WHAT a child watches, consumes or interacts with is so much more important than simply prescribing “how much” they can watch. For a pre-schooler 1 hour watching fast-paced TV cartoons may not be appropriate, but an hour spent creating a storybook, or looking at photos on the iPad with mum or dad is a qualitatively different experience.
WHEN a child uses screens is so important, yet often overlooked. If it’s before school, then we need to be mindful about how stimulating it is, as this can interfere with their attention and concentration at school. Is it before nap time or sleep time? We know the screen-time in the 90 minutes before sleep can interfere with the onset of sleep.
Now I’m not advocating that we don’t have screen limits with our children. This certainly isn’t the case. We need to establish firm boundaries around screen-time.
But I don’t think that we can prescribe an exact amount that applies universally to all children. We need to ensure that our children are getting adequate time to play, interact socially with family and peers, be physically active and sleep. It’s so important that screen-time doesn’t interfere with these vital activities.
I’d love to know in the comments below, how have you determined how much screen-time your child will have each day/week? What works well in your family?