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Opinion: screen time can be quality time

Screens are part of our daily lives and with some planning, parents, carers and educators can ensure children’s screen time is quality time.

It’s a good idea to help young children develop healthy screen habits early in life, so that they make good choices about how to use free time when they’re older.

Screen time typically involves watching TV or DVDs, using the computer, playing video or hand-held computer games, or using a tablet or smartphone.

There are benefits and risks to using these devices, so a healthy lifestyle includes limits on daily screen time.

Recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that:

  • children under 18 months should have no screen time other than video-chatting
  • children aged 18 months to 2 years can watch or use high-quality programs or apps if an adult watches or plays with them
  • children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day of screen time, provided an adult watches or plays with them

The importance of a parent, carer or educator joining a young child during screen time cannot be underestimated. By watching or playing screens together, the adult can help the child understand what they are seeing and learn from it.

If you or the parents you work with are thinking about whether a child should watch TV or use a device, it can be handy to seek out good quality media that supports the child’s learning.For example, a two year-old can get a lot out of spending 15 minutes singing along to videos or nursery rhymes because this develops their language and literacy skills.

Good quality apps or games for young children:

  • encourage creativity
  • encourage problem solving
  • develop communication skills
  • develop social skills
  • build on interests

Good quality TV programs, movies and videos for young children:

  • have positive messages about relationships, family and life
  • inspire new off-screen play ideas for your child once the program is finished: as outlined in the National Early Years Learning Framework, babies and children learn about their world through play
  • are age-appropriate

One of the best ways to manage screen time is to give a child some choices. For example, you could give the child a list of games and programs and let them decide how they want to use their screen time. This teaches children to think, plan and make choices about electronic media use.

And of course, remember that children learn their screen habits from the significant adults in their lives.  If you don’t want a child to watch a screen while eating, make sure you’re not watching the screen with fork in hand either!

Associate Professor Julie Green is Executive Director of Raising Children Network. The website’s new and free screen time articles can be accessed at raisingchildren.net.au/screentime

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