From watching TV to playing video games and using digital tablets, children have become increasingly exposed to screens in their daily lives.
Kristyn Stanbury, a parenting coach with ReachOut Parents One-on-One Support, says parents and carers must strive to find a healthy balance given the potential risks associated with excessive screen time. Recommended recreational screen time in Australia is less than two hours a day for children aged five to 17.
“The research tells us that excessive screen use is linked with mental health struggles, poor nutrition, decreased physical activity, poor sleep patterns, and can even impact cognitive function,” Kristyn says.
“Teens have self-reported experiencing feeling low and irritable, feeling nervous, and having trouble sleeping, along with headaches, back pain, dizziness, and abdominal pain when their screen use is more than two hours per day.”
Screen time is something a lot of parents find difficult to understand and manage and concern has been increasing over the past few years.
“With COVID having a significant impact on our reliance on technology for education, entertainment and socialisation, many parents are now facing challenges with implementing boundaries around screen time with their teens,” Kristyn says.
Kristyn has these helpful hints to help parents and carers manage children’s screen time.
SET LIMITS – “Depending on the age of your child, involve them in negotiations around screen time and allow them to have some input,” she says. “You could also discuss setting limits for other activities as well, so this is not seen as a ‘punishment’ for screen use, but just a part of developing a routine/schedule to ensure teens are aware of specific expectations around activities and limits, and what activities are available to them outside of screen time.”
PRIORITISE SLEEP – “A routine that focuses on sleep hygiene, including an hour downtime from screens before sleep, can support an adequate amount and quality of rest.”
ENCOURAGE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – “Try to actively engage children in other activities, particularly physical activity. Appeal to their interests and strengths and get involved where you can.”
SCREEN AUDIT – “Figure out how much time is being spent on different types on screen use – encourage those positive ones and discourage the unhealthier ones.”
SCREEN TIME LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES – “Find ways that you can learn about your children through their screen use, and ways to use their screens to encourage learning.”
HEALTHY ROLE MODELLING – “Demonstrate healthy and responsible use of technology, have ‘power down’ or ‘unplugged’ periods of time and follow the same basic rules – for example no phones at the dinner table for anyone and one a one-hour social media limit per day.”
MINDFUL SCREEN USE – “Discourage multi-tasking with tech and teach teens the skill of being able to focus on one thing at a time to improve efficiency and productivity, particularly where tech is involved.”
Most of the experts agree that understanding and balance are the keys to getting it right with screen time.
“Firstly, gain an understanding of why screens are so important to teens in terms of their social connection and identity, remaining connected to their social groups, and the impact of limited screen time as experienced by your teens,” Kristyn says.
“This will allow parents to work with their teens to develop boundaries and expectations around screen time that meet their teens’ needs for social connection, while supporting other developmental and health needs.
“This is where balance comes in. Support your teen to identify and engage in other activities that can meet their social needs that also provide physical and cognitive exercise, entertainment, and purpose outside of screen use.”
The ReachOut One-on-One program is available Australia-wide. It’s free coaching service for parents and carers of teens delivered by ReachOut and The Benevolent Society.
ReachOut has more helpful hints about how you can help your teenager take a break from technology and a parents discussion forum to ask other parents what worked for them while setting rules around screen time for teens. You can also check out our this fact sheet about technology.
Register for the program and book your own appointment at ReachOut.com/Parents. For more information about The Benevolent Society, call our Support Centre on 1800 236 762.