Our kids are more connected than ever before, with smartphones, smart watches, tablets and laptops an increasing part of everyday life. But too much screen time can have a negative impact on children’s physical and psychosocial health and wellbeing, as well as their academic outcomes.
So before they set foot in a classroom this year, it’s a good idea to put some limits in place to manage screen time right from the start, says Dr Lauren Arundell, from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN).
“If everyone knows the rules, expectations and consequences, there will be less conflict over device use. As a positive, it will free up more active and family time to enjoy together,” Lauren says.
Dr Lauren Arundell
Lauren is studying how families use their sedentary time, and how to change these behaviours. Her latest research found that a staggering 85 per cent of parents said they would reduce their child’s screen time upon hearing that the risks include poor mental health and adverse impacts on their child’s future health.
“We found that there is considerable scope to reduce screen time behaviour in the home once parents hear about specific health risks,” she said.
She has compiled some evidence-based tips to help parents take a proactive approach to determine what is acceptable in their family.
“Families can develop a ‘contract’, which sets out how screen time will be managed in the home,” she says.
“It helps to have the kids involved in the process and decide on fair consequences for breaking the rules. Once agreed, everyone knows where they stand.”
Creating a family screen-time contract – things to consider:
- How long can the screens be used for?
National guidelines state that children 5->18years should limit their recreational screen time to less than 2-hours per day. Less is better.
- What screens can be used? (TV, computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, games consoles)
Can all family members watch TV, but only older children/teens use mobile phones or games consoles?
- When can screens be used? (weekdays/weekend days, before school, after-school, at dinner time, after dinner)
Meal times are a great opportunity for families to connect so keep screens away. Instead of using screens straight after-school, encourage children to go outside and enjoy the daylight hours. Turn off screens when not in use, don’t have the TV on in the background. There may be certain rules for particular devices, for example, games consoles only be used on weekends.
- Where can screens be used in the home?
Bedrooms should be kept screen-free. Screens, particularly mobile phones, in the bedroom can lead to reduced sleep and more sleep interruptions. Children with a TV in their bedroom watch two hours more per week than those who don’t. Encourage children to complete their homework in a central location such as the study or kitchen bench. All mobile screens should be kept and charged in a central location overnight (this applies to parents too!).
- What can the screens be used for?
If children are completing homework, ensure that they do not have multiple devices on (such as laptop/TV/mobile) as this is linked to greater distraction and lower academic performance. Once they have finished, the devices should be switched off.
Parents and children should be aware of the age recommendations for apps and games. The Australian recommendations are here.
If using a school device (e.g. iPad/laptop) parents and children should be aware of the school policies regarding what they can be used for (e.g. internet sites, social media, educational programs, school email network etc) and the consequences of inappropriate use. Other relevant school policies for screen use may include Social Media Policy, Mobile Device Policy etc.
- What are the consequences if this plan/contract is broken?
Discuss and come to an agreement as a family, so everyone feels included and respects the process. Although it can be challenging, it is really important to follow through with the consequences.
Consider a central ‘charging station’ for all mobile devices