Giant screen TV’s, computers, smart phones, gaming consoles and tablets are just some of the many technologies we have today.

We live in an age where technology is everywhere and is an integral part of our daily life from morning to night … this is the environment my son and your kids were born into.

So, I decided to look at the research on technology and kids to answer the question:

How much technology is safe and beneficial for kids and how is too much and dangerous?

After a little hunt around on the Mouths of Mums website, I found other mums were worried about their kids using technology too… here are some of their issues, concerns and questions:

Technology use in kids- evolutionary or not?

I am a parent and I am torn. My 8 month old already knows how to use my iPhone (we don’t let her play with it but have left it around and she’s grabbed it). Part of me feels this is an evolutionary aspect however another part is very concerned. What is your view on kids and technology?

Too much technology?

I find that whenever my kids (or my partner for that matter) have any spare time, they all want to sit in front of either the computer, the iPods or the TV. Do other mums worry about this? What have other mums done to mix things up a bit more?

Like you I am a worried mum, so I thought a good place to start was the official recommendations for screen times.

Official recommendations:

Recommendations from Australia, New Zealand and the US are similar.

  • NO screen time for children aged between 0-2 years. That’s right 0 hours of screen time – no tablet, DVD, smart phone, computer or TV in the background or foreground.
  • Less than 1 hour per day screen time for children 2-5 years old.
  • Between 1-2 hour maximum out of school hours per day screen time for children aged between 5-18 years.

Furthermore there are strong recommendations for no technology in bedrooms as this can have the largest negative impact on children, and that these hours are the ‘upper limits’. It is better to have less than the maximum of two hours.

Why the limitations? What’s the harm?

While there are certainly studies that show that children can experience educational and other benefits by interacting with technology under the right conditions, this article focuses on the research that looks at the harm of excessive use of technology outside of school use.

Something that surprised me was that most of the research on screen time focuses on television and gaming. So, the key researchers looking at screen time caution that we don’t really know the full extent of the potential short-term and long term harm of these other forms of technology on our children’s physical, psychological, social and emotional development until more research is conducted over extended periods of time. So, until the research catches up with modern life, to be safe, it’s best to stay well within the screen time guidelines as these were developed with the known harms in mind.

Research shows that children who have excessive use of technology are more likely to experience:

  • Language and social delays in children under 2 years of age.
  • Less physical activity and greater chance of obesity and other associated illnesses.
  • Greater consumption of snack foods high in sugar/salt/fat.
  • Fewer social interactions.
  • Less reading of books and reduced engagement in creative, imaginative and other play essential for learning and development.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Addiction to adrenaline, instant rewards and stimulation (making everything else ‘boring’).
  • Attention, focus and concentration issues (technology can be a great distracter).
  • Aggressive behaviors (with violent games).

Frightening, right? And the list goes on….These conditions are not something any parent wants their children to experience.

So what can you do?

I suggest you take some time to look at your family, get more information and then work out a strategy.

Strategies for reducing screen time

Here are some ideas recommended in the research and I have tried in our home. I have also added some articles from the Mouths of Mums website – so you have some more great resources to draw on.

  • Educate your children about the harms of screen time so hopefully you won’t have such a fight on your hands. Here’s one example of how we managed it in our home. We spent lots of time explaining to Cameron that TV switches his brain off, giving him experiences of when he was actively doing and passively watching (children’s brains and adults too, become passive when watching TV). He now understands why there is no TV in the morning before school because having a passive brain isn’t a great way to go to school and learn. Educating about harms of technology may not be as easy with your older children – teens and tweens – especially if they are already addicted to screen time. Here is an article that might help with communicating with your teens so as to get the best result – the right amount of screen time and still keep a great relationship.
  • Conduct a screen time audit as a family. List every piece of technology you own and ask everyone to track their daily use. Talk about the results as a family – you might be surprised at how many hours per day you’re on screens – when you add it together. Just 2 weeks ago, after I did this research, I was concerned that we were all spending a bit too much time on screens in our house and, as an experiment, we packed the TV away for 2 weeks. Wow! What a difference it has made – and we don’t even watch that much TV. What I have seen is that we all seem calmer and more relaxed without the background noise. We talk more, we’ve played games (indoors and out) more often with the extra time, read more books and we even started a new big family project. We are building Lego scenes to make our very own first stop motion movie. Stay tuned! Once it’s done I’ll put it up on Mouths of Mums! I’m not sure I want the TV back – it’s been so good. Even my husband suggested perhaps we should only watch TV on the weekends when we bring it back. And Cameron has only mentioned he wished we had the TV once and my husband mentioned it once too when the world cup started. Why not try a screen free day on the weekend and have a great day out together.
  • Set limits: pick specific programs, days and times for screens. In our home, Cameron is allowed to play games for short periods of time on the weekend. The games are no-where to be seen during the week ( we hide them so he doesn’t see them or even ask for them). Dinner time is screen free time for everyone. Being a good role model is so important. We use family dinner time to talk and share about the highlights of our day and any challenges we might be having.We allow our son to watch TV after school for up to 1 hour a day with shows that are educational, interactive and engaging. Where possible we are nearby or watching with him. I have to say Master Chef and other cooking shows are family favourites and Cameron learns so much! Just last night he said he wanted to make his salad using half a red capsicum as the bowl. He gobbled it up and exclaimed “mum the capsicum is the hero of the dish”! He’s just 6! So cute right? Watching TV with your kids is a way the research says you can mitigate some of the many harms of TV viewing for children. Here is an article that explains how you can turn TV time into learning time.
  • Take all technology out of the bedroom and turn TV’s and other background noise off. Excessive screen time has been shown to harm a child’s ability to focus and keep their attention on tasks and it can make them hyper vigilant. No-one wants over stimulated kids. This can affect children’s nervous system and can result in anxiety, difficulties sleeping and challenges with maintaining a feeling of calm. This article provides some great ideas to help children calm.
  • Finally, in this article there are some more ideas for making technology work effectively and safely in your home.

As with most things in life, use of technology is all about balance and knowing what and how much screen time is right for your family and your child depending on their age and development. I sincerely hope this post has helped you to understand more about the recommendations, potential harms and has given you ideas for reducing screen time in your home, to support you and your children to live long, healthy and happy lives with and without technology!

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