As young children grow and develop, they need more time in active play, less time sitting and enough sleep  each day to be healthy. Time away from screens is time they can be active and build social skills.

After all, our bodies aren’t designed to sit for long periods – we need to move to stay healthy.

Small changes in screen time habits can benefit a child’s physical, social, psychological and cognitive development. Plus, making changes together can help the whole family have healthier screen use, including parents.

What is screen time?

Screen time is spending time in front of a: 


  • Computer


  • Hand-held game


  • Mobile or smart phone


  • Tablet or iPad


  • TV

How much screen time is too much?

For healthy development, the Australian government guidelines recommend:

  • Babies and toddlers under 2: No screen time
  • Pre-schoolers aged 2 to 5: No more than 1 hour per day
  • Children aged 5 to 17: No more than 2 hours per day (not counting school activities)

Why is too much screen time a problem?

Research from CoLAb shows that too much screen time can affect children’s health and development in many ways:

Social, emotional and cognitive

  • Difficulty with social skills and relationship building, for example between children and their parents
  • Reduced motivation and self-esteem
  • Cognitive development – screens can distract children from exploration and play
  • Exposure to inappropriate content can impact future behaviour

Physical

  • Disrupted sleep due to exposure to blue light (which suppresses melatonin – the hormone that regulates the body’s sleep cycle)
  • Language delays and reduced verbal interactions
  • Not getting enough physical activity which can lead to obesity
  • Problems with eyesight development as a result of a lack of sunlight
  • More likely to snack on unhealthy foods and not eat enough fruit and veggies

Tips to help reduce screen time for the whole family

Establishing positive routines and habits early can make it easier to manage your family’s screen time in the long run. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Set rules like no screens at meal times or in the bedroom
  • Establish routines like eating together as a family and restrict screens before bed
  • Break up and limit screen time – try setting a timer for 20-30 minutes (give a 5 minute warning before time is up)
  • Work towards screen-free days – start by replacing just half an hour of screen time with activities you can do as a family
  • Start a reward system for spending less time on screens
  • When going out, take toys or books instead of screens
  • Be a role model and reduce your screen time too.

Activities to replace screen time

While screens can be useful for learning and entertainment, they can’t replace the health benefits of being active, like developing social skills and improving sleep.

You could consider balancing screen time with other activities your family enjoys that promote health and develop new skills.

Healthy screen use for adults

Finding your own balanced and positive ways to use screens can also set good examples for children. Here are some ideas for balancing out your screen time during the day.

  • Relaxation and entertainment – mix it up and make sure screen time is just one of the ways you relax (not the only way)
  • Sitting at the desk – take regular breaks to stand up, get some water or take a short walk
  • Communication and social media – Set aside some phone-free time each day, so you can be ‘in the moment’ with your family. If it’s not urgent, hold off responding to messages if you’re in the middle of listening or talking to someone.


Tip: If you want to check how much time you’re spending on your screen, you can monitor your usage in the settings, or consider a timer or app to help you manage screen time.

Learn more about healthy screen use for all ages at raisingchildren.net.