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A new report by Norton has concluded that parents are struggling to set healthy screen time routines. Can too much screen time be harmful to your child – and are certain activities better or worse than others?
Screen time is the name given to the time someone spends using a computer or device (like an iPad), playing on a games console, or watching television. There is a great deal of information about screen time and its effects – some of it conflicting – so it can be hard to know what the boundaries should be, particularly as it’s clear that some screen time can be beneficial (it can help children learn new skills, for instance).
As children mature and become more independent, it’s important to strike the right balance when it comes to screen time, as too much can negatively impact on their growth and wellbeing. Parents are advised to set boundaries early and review their child’s online use on a regular basis.
Previously it was held that parents should impose limits on the amount of time their children spent looking at screens; however, recent research suggests it’s not how much time spent that is important – rather, it’s how that time is used.
An Oxford University study – which surveyed 20,000 parents of children aged between two and five – concluded that time limits might have no impact on a child’s wellbeing. Indeed, the study’s lead author, Dr Andrew Pryzblyski, commented: ‘Our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time.’
A report by the Universtiy of Michigan (focused on young people aged between four and 11) contained similar findings. It determined that whilst ‘typically, researchers and clinicians quantify or consider the amount of screen time as of paramount importance in determining what is normal or not normal or healthy or unhealthy’ it is in fact how the children use their devices that matter. Lead author Sarah Domoff concludes that ‘there is more to it than number of hours. What matters most is whether screen use causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity.’
Children will follow their parents’ lead, so it’s important to assess your own behaviours and habits in the first instance. Try and set limits for yourself (i.e. no phone or iPad use during family time) so that you can set a good example. Here are some other tips:
Though some parents may long for stricter guidelines – i.e. x number of hours per day, based on age – current guidance seems to suggest that individual discretion is key, here. As such, we recommend that you focus on ensuring your child is making the most of their screen time, that they develop a healthy relationship with tech, and that they aren’t falling into bad habits – and try not to worry too much about how many hours they spend on their device of choice (within reason!).
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