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Help! My child is spending too much time in front of their screen

Help! My child is spending too much time in front of their screen
Published: Tue 20 Jul 2021

Another topic we’re asked about a lot here at The Fathering Project by parents, is management of screen time. 

Excessive screen time, which includes mobile phone, TV, iPad, laptop, and gaming devices, is starting become an increasing problem, leading to addiction in some children. According to Brad Marshall, also known as the ‘Unplugged Psychologist’, his clinic is receiving more and more referrals, with a waitlist of 4-6 months. Not only is there an issue with increasing numbers of children experiencing addiction to screens, in the last 5 years, the age has been getting younger too, with Brad’s clinic seeing some children as young as 6-8 years old.  

What do the guidelines say about screen time? 

Children under 2 – ideally no screen time 

Children aged 2 – 5 years – limit to 1 hour per day

Children aged 5 years and above – recommended no more than 2 hours per day.

The above guidelines are in a ‘perfect world’, but we know on any given day, a perfect world isn’t always possible, so instead, it’s suggested you set realistic standards, ones that suit your family. Brad suggests to monitor screen time more closely when you start to see it’s negatively impacting your child’s everyday life, as this can also start to impact their development.

Five key areas of impact

  1. Behaviour – more irritable, moody, or changes that are different to how your child usually behaves
  2. Social life – spending less time with their friends 
  3. Sleep – waking up during early hours of the morning to play games or use their device 
  4. Exercise – not getting outside to play 
  5. Education – less attentive in class, affecting grades 

It is important to note that screen time in excess of 7 hours can have a negative impact on child brain development. Brad noted the findings in an ongoing longitudinal study revealed that in some cases, 9 and 10 year old kids who spent more than seven hours a day using devices like smartphones, tablets, and video games, showed signs of premature thinning of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain that processes sensory information. 

Tips to help manage screen time

  1. Control the home WIFI.  This is Brad’s number one suggestion for parents as it helps to control online gaming and social media use. For most children, taking the device away doesn’t usually work and just results in conflict.
  2. Be a role model. Set a good example with your own device usage and try to limit the amount of time you spend on screens when you’re in front of your child. Children will notice what you’re doing and model the same behaviour. Instead of scrolling your phone at night, try reading a book a few times a week.
  3. Agree on screen time usage during the week and on weekends. For example, screen time is only allowed for 1 or 2 hours a day after school, when all homework is finished. 
  4. Unwind as a family and agree to have an hour or two of no screen time. 
  5. Pay attention to your child’s mood and actions after having various media experiences to determine whether it’s quality or not and whether it should be more closely monitored. 
  6. Keep in mind that the ‘quality’ might differ to your own opinion compared to your child’s. For example, an important part of a teen’s life is socialising, and they might do this through online gaming and social media.

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