HOW MUCH SCREENTIME IS HEALTHY FOR MY CHILD?
Here is a summary of the advice from leading experts around the world to give you some clarity around how screentime affects your child and how much time they should spend on a screen.
First thing to remember; all screentime is not all bad. Let’s agree on that. Our 7 year old children will be doing jobs in 2030 that we can’t even conceive of in 2017, and it is certain that digital skills will form key skills for them. It’s the sheer volume of time children are spending on screens which concern us. Too many screen-based hours are preventing them from doing all the things they need to do – outdoor play, socialising, having fun, making mistakes – to help them become robust and resilient adults. All these things cannot be learnt on screens or taught in school – they are life experiences.
WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?
Public Health England recommends 'rationing children’s non-homework screen time'. The NHS advises parents to ‘Decrease screen time ... Drag the kids away from the TV, computer and games console’. The Chief Medical Officer in her Annual Report: Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays (2013) has a dedicated section entitled:
‘Screen time: Evidence suggests that extended screen time per day has an effect on health which is independent of the sedentary aspect ... Mechanisms to reduce this effect include age-specific maximum times set by parents. Source: Sigman, A. Time for a view on screen time. Arch Dis Child 2012;97:11 935-942.’
According to market research from Childwise, children aged 5 to 16 spent an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen in 2016 compared with around three hours in 1995. In addition the British Heart Foundation released a report in Jan 2016 stating that only 1 in 10 toddlers are not active enough to be healthy.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CONCERNS ABOUT CHILDREN AND SCREENTIME?
Weight issues it seems obvious, right? If you're in front of a screen, you're not moving. Studies have confirmed that too much screentime contributes to childhood obesity, and that reducing screen time helps reverse the trend.
Sleep issues: The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned against keeping screens in childrens bedrooms, saying that even small screens like phones and tablets can be linked to poor sleep quality. One reason may be that the light emitted by screens delays melatonin release and actually makes it harder to fall asleep.
Social and emotional development : Parents' biggest worry is how screen time might hurt development and there is evidence, especially regarding social skills. Research at UCLA found that sixth formers who spent 5 five days away from screens (smartphones, tablets, and computers) scored higher on tests for reading emotional cues.
Behaviour issues Excessive screen use has been linked to shorter attention spans, hyperactivity, ADHD, and aggressive behaviour.
Unhealthy habits: A screen habit can be hard to break. One study looked at the number of hours 4-year-olds spent watching TV and found that the more time they spent watching, the tougher the habit was to break when they were 6. As children get older, many parents worry about dependence and addictive tendencies.
The problem we face as parents is working out how much screentime is right for our child and how we monitor it.
WHAT COUNTS AS SCREENTIME?
‘Screentime’ is any time your child spends on any screen or device for fun. Such as ... ipad, smartphone, computer, play station, TV, laptop…. Time on screens for homework is not included… but if they tell you they are doing homework and really they are playing FIFA – that’s included!
HOW MUCH SCREENTIME IS HEALTHY?
Experts generally recommend children aged 2-5 years have no more than an hour and children aged 5-18 no more than 2 hours of screentime a day. When you add on daily screentime for homework that becomes a lot of hours in front of a screen!
If you use the following as a very rough guide you won’t be going far wrong:-
3-7 year olds - half an hour to an hour a day
7-12 year olds – 1 hour a day
12-15 year olds – 1 and a half hours a day
16+ 2 hours a day
If you’d rather not be limited by a guide, you could follow advice from the American Association of Pediatrics, AAP, they no longer set specific limits but offer parents guidance in other ways.
They suggest that for Children from age 6-teens, parents should decide how much time their child can have on screens based on what works for their family. BUT they must make sure before any screentime is allowed adequate time has been put aside for daily priorities. These include in 1 hour of physical activity, time for social interaction, downtime, home work, reading, family time, school, sleep and then anything that’s left can be quality screentime that involves parents.
So that might sound like a lot of extra time for screens, but when you break it down an average school day, it’s not much at all. Let’s look at an average child’s school day:-
School 7 hours
After school clubs 1 hour
Sport / activity 1 hour
Homework 30 mins
Family time 30 mins
Free time/downtime 30 mins
Mealtimes 30 mins
Reading time 30 mins
Sleep time 11 hours
TOTAL 22.30 hrs
That leaves just 1.5 hours for other stuff… so how does it always seem they are on screens for hours? Balance is the key.
Healthy children have a couple of really useful interactive charts which you can load up with your child’s schedule and also create a media plan for your family http://bit.ly/2jBDqzM
So balance is the key. Your child needs digital skills, so it’s important to embrace the technology but how?
SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE SCREENTIME HEALTHIER FOR YOUR CHID
How your children use screens : Try and encourage your child to use screens/media in ways that promote interaction, connection and creativity. So it’s good to mix things up, get them using lots of different types of media rather than get stuck doing the same thing hour after hour.
Co-viewing/watching /playing with your child is good : Try and spend some time viewing what your child is watching with them, or if they are playing a game, play with them, this sort of interaction and discussion from an early age can help educate your child about media/internet. Research has also found that children learn better from media when they are co-viewing and engaging with a parent / adult. It will also give you a better sense of the sort of things your child enjoys playing and allow you to feel more connected with them. Also a chance to educate them on the risks of being online.
Help them choose media that is Worth the Time: More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as ‘interactive’ should require more than ‘pushing & swiping’. Look to organisations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps and games
Here are some suggestions from Internet matters on best educational apps to keep your child safe online - check them out here.
Let them be bored! Finally if all else fails, remember it’s good for children to be bored. They are completely over-scheduled and need time everyday to relax and chill out. Don’t always feel you have to entertain your child. It’s good for them to sit and think. Not to have to be ‘doing’ all the time.
Finally, here’s a quick round up of top tips from TimeTokens:-
- Digital conversation is important so talk to your child about internet safety.
- Try to keep devices in a family space. This way you can easily monitor what your child is looking at.
- Talk to your child about their screentime usage - what is their favourite app? What do they like playing and why? And what are their friends playing with looking at?
- Avoid screens during meal times. Enjoy each others company, chat about your day.
- Children’s brains need time to switch off so turn screens off at least 30 minutes before bedtime and keep bedrooms screen-free zones.
- Try to make sure your child takes regular breaks in their screentime sessions and keeps a good posture.
- Children model their behaviour on what they see around them so be mindful about your own digital habits – like checking your phone at the dinner table!
- However, you can always justify your screentime because parents’ brains and bodies are fully formed and not developing. Screentime does not have the same negative effects.
We really hope that you have enjoyed reading this blog and have found it helpful. Please do let us know if you have any tips or advice you would like to share, so we can pass on to our community.
REFERENCE FOR FURTHER READING
Children’s commissioners report 2017 Growing Up Digital http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/publications/growing-digital
Internet Matters https://www.internetmatters.org/