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Helping your kids switch on without tuning out

New research reveals the extent of the risks associated with excessive screen time in children

Girl playing game on tablet computer

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[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

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Devices like smartphones and tablets have become powerful tools to communicate, entertain and seek information—connecting us as a global community in a way past generations could not have dreamed.

However, kids today often spend significant amounts of time watching or interacting with screens, which can directly impact sleep quality as well as time for physical activity, with negative consequences across all the key foundations of children’s health and wellbeing.

Current guidelines state that children should spend no more than two hours per day being entertained by screens. Yet, the majority of primary school aged children (60%) and high school children (85%) exceed these recommendations, spending more than four-and-a-half hours every weekday on screens, and six or more hours on the weekends for almost half of kids (49%).

According to a new University of Notre Dame and Sanitarium report that identifies and examines the most critical threats to lifetime health outcomes for Australian children, screen time often also comes at the expense of social interaction with parents and carers, and can lead to language delays, reduced attention spans, lower levels of school-readiness and poorer decision-making.

Long periods of time spent sitting in front of a screen can also have an impact on a child’s physical health, leading to poor posture, short-sightedness (myopia) and hearing problems due to over-use of headphones.

But whether we like it or not, screens are here to stay. The challenge for parents and carers is to ensure that kids aren’t spending too much time on them and that the time spent on screens is as positive and beneficial as possible.

Why not try the tips below to help your kids develop healthy screen habits from an early age?

Learn more about children’s health and wellbeing by viewing the Little People Big Lives Report at sanitarium.com.au/biglives.

Healthy screen habits to try

Remove screen-silos. Mum and Dad are watching TV and the kids are glued to their mobiles. Sound familiar? Screen time is often “solo”, which can negatively impact your child’s social and communication skills. Remove the silos and make screen time “family time”, like a regular movie night.

Screen the screens. Screen time should be constructive and positive for your kids. Make sure their time spent online is age-appropriate. Age ratings are a good start, and there are helpful websites that provide reviews from other parents to guide your decision on whether something is right for your children.

Online for offline. Help kids balance the digital and real world by matching their online games with offline activity. If they love a soccer app, match their time spent online with a kick about in the park.