Reading the newspaper recently, an interesting article entitled “Kids screen rules outdated” caught my eye. The article highlighted the current guidelines that were developed in 2001 by the American Academy of Paediatrics and are used by the Australian Department of Health. The recommendation is that children under the age of two see no screens at all and children aged between five and 17 limit their screen time to two hours a day. Remember these guidelines were written in 2001. To put things into context; Xbox did not exist, and the first iPhone was still six years away. So the initial study concentrated on TV screens and more traditional home computers but did not take into account smart devices, tablet gaming or even social networking. The Academy admits it needs to review the recommendations in order to “evolve or become obsolete”.
A more recent study around screen time from University of Western Australia found that more than 60 per cent of Australian children were over these recommendations. The study also found that 45 per cent of eight year olds were exceeding the limit, and the proportion climbed to 80 per cent for children aged between 15 and 16 and yet today the most popular screen for children still remains the TV (90 per cent), followed by the laptop (58%) and mobile phone (57%). Even though watching TV is still the most popular activity, it is the growing exposure through school, homework, searching the web and social networking that has had the most impact on total screen time for individuals. Interestingly boys are 1.75 times more likely to exceed the recommended screen time due to playing games and it's already peaking by the time they turn 8 years old.
American Academy of Paediatrics are now saying the term “screen time” is outdated, and is redirecting their focus on the media content more than the media platform or time spent with media. Also to consider, is the amount of parent engagement during the screen usage by their children, and what content the children are being exposed to. For example is it for educational purposes or is it recreational? Leading experts in Australia suggest parents need to monitor and limit screen time by offering educational media and non-electronic formats such as books, newspapers, board games as well as watching TV with their children. This will allow parents to obtain a better understanding of the type of content their children are absorbing. Further suggestions are to create screen-free zones within the home by having areas where there are no TV’s, computers, video games or phones including with the child's bedroom.
School holidays are an ideal time to demonstrate healthy behaviours for your child by encouraging the whole family to be physically active and to socialise with friends in real life, but most importantly be aware of your own screen use and make a conscious choice to be a good role model.