Digital balance needs a realistic rethink

The hot topic on most parents’ minds these days is finding the digital balance for their kids. No matter what age their children are – from toddlers to teens – parents continue to grapple with finding a healthy balance between screens and switching off.

Researchers from the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne have called on the government to update national guidelines for child screen usage, with new research from the Australian Child Health Poll finding current guidelines do not equate to usage needs of children and the changing face of digital technologies.

Research lead author and pediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes said guidelines for screen use in children were last updated in 2014 and new recommendations may help parents set realistic rules for use with their children.

“These [guidelines] were developed before the widespread use of mobile screen devices. Up-to-date guidelines and resources for parents and healthcare workers would give them a base for developing healthy habits when it comes to screen use,” Dr Rhodes said.

The Australian Child Health Poll, conducted by RCHM, found the majority of Australian children’s screen use – across all age groups – exceeded the current national recommendations.

Current guidelines recommend no more than two hours of screen time per day, which includes the digital spectrum of mobiles, tablets, TVs and all other screens.

Dr Rhodes said we were living in a new era of iParenting and the goalposts needed to be moved to adapt to changes in society.

“…what we learnt is just how much screens have become a part of life for Australian kids, even for very young children with a third of preschoolers owning their own smart phone or tablet device,” she added.

The research also showed most teenagers (94 per cent) have a phone or tablet and more than two –thirds of primary school aged children have their own mobile devices.

Dr Rhodes said finding the balance between screen and non-screen time was vital to ensure healthy lifestyles for children.

“…there is an opportunity cost where if children spend an excessive amount of time on screens they’re not getting enough physical activity play or face-to-face social interaction with other individuals.”

The Raising Children Network encourages parents to ensure their children enjoy varied healthy and fun activities both with and without screens.

Parents should look at the amount of time their children spend using screens and ensure the usage does not impede sleep or other physical activities which promote healthy development.

However, parents are urged to look at the broader picture of digital technology use by their children and not set limits on screen use – i.e. leisure time usage of TVs and video games – based on their child’s use of screens at school or to complete homework.