How much tech is too much tech?

The anxiety of too much screen time is often at the forefront of parents’ minds. However, there are ways to monitor and balance children’s interactions with media.

Dr. Dylan Cliff is an Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) affiliate from UOW’s Early Start and School of Education, with a research focus on childhood electronic media use.

Studies show that too much screen-time can result in unhealthy diets and sedentary behaviour, leading to a higher risk of obesity. There is also some evidence to suggest that reliance on screens can hinder social-emotional development and result in behavioural problems. However, the quick advancement in technology makes this harder to research.

“Most of the evidence is from studies focusing on traditional media such as television viewing and, to a lesser extent, video games. Evidence from studies on television viewing can probably be applied across devices, and this generally indicates that less viewing time is better,” said Dr. Cliff.

National guidelines suggest that children aged 3-5 should not have more than one hour of screen time in any 24 hours. Those aged 5-17 are limited to two hours. Screens should also be restricted at bed time to maintain healthy sleeping habits, according to Dr. Cliff.

Preliminary research of young children in the Illawarra indicated that high levels of television/program viewing were associated with poorer social-emotional outcomes 12-months later. Young children who used apps at low levels (less than 30 minutes per day) displayed better cognitive outcomes than those who used apps at higher levels (30 minutes or more per day). However, contextual differences, like the types of media being consumed, may affect the way technology influences children’s development.

While the results might seem scary, Dr. Cliff said that there are ways ensure your kids are getting the most out of their screens.

“Evidence on use of newer technologies in schools generally indicates that there are benefits for learning and educational outcomes, but there is less evidence in other contexts such as the home. There are many forms of electronic media that may be potentially beneficial or at least less harmful, such as reading electronic books, or media that allows them to be creative through arts and craft, or creating music or video content,” said Dr. Cliff.

Additionally, parents could encourage group activities to distract kids from the intrigue of screens.

“Get kids out of the house! Swimming, bike riding or meeting friends at the park are great ways to keep them active. If you can’t get out of the house, family activities like board games and card games can be really fun.”

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