Benson Tait

Benson Tait

Oct 14, 2023. 3 mins read

Parenting

Screens and Tots: Making Informed Choices About Screen Time

Navigating parenting in the digital age can be oh-so-confusing!

Whether it's the mesmerising allure of cartoons, the giggles induced by funny cat videos, or the sheer joy of discovering a new educational mobile app, there's no denying that screens have become a significant part of our children's lives.

Concept of child dependence on phone, smartphone, social network Childhood and communication on internet Emotion in child

But is it appropriate to simply call tablets and TVs the new kids toys and call it a day, or are there some risks to letting screen time flow freely? Let’s explore this perplexing topic together – no judgement, just a dash of wisdom, and a whole lot of love for the tiny tech enthusiasts in our lives. 

Science Says: Screen Time Guidelines by Age

Health professionals around the globe are growing increasingly concerned about the rise of devices in tiny hands – and not because they’re out to ruin your kid’s day. 

See, screens can be a bit like candy – fun in moderation but a bit problematic if you devour too much. With screens everywhere, from tablets to TVs, and video games to smartphones, it's like a never-ending overstimulating carnival for kids, and not necessarily in a good way. 

True, widespread access to devices is a fairly recent development, and it’s important to remember that due to this, any research we have on hand is still emerging. But what seems to be fairly certain is that there are two most important variables when it comes to screen time-related health outcomes: the time spent in front of the screen, and the quality of the content.

With that said, in Australia, the current screen time recommendations are as follows:

  • No routine screen time for children under 2 years of age

  • No more than 1-2 hours of quality programming per day for children aged 2-5 years

What’s Wrong With Excessive Screen Time?

Guidelines are just that – guidelines! To make important decisions for your family, it pays off to know the “why” behind them, and mitigate any risks accordingly.

So, what’s so wrong with excessive screen time, exactly?

Research identifies quite a few potential issues, including:

  • Limiting physical activity. The saying “glued to the screen” is there for a reason, and if your little ones spend a lot of time on front of screens, chances are they may not be hitting their recommended physical activity quotas. This largely depends on the type of programming your little one is offered, and how they interact with it - so if they’re into vigorous TV dance parties, this may not be such an issue.

  • Reducing sleep quality. Screen time has pretty clear overstimulating effects on some kids, and may lead to a hard time falling asleep at night. Getting enough zzz’s is pivotal for healthy development, so this is definitely something to keep in mind!

  • Stalling communication skills. Much like with physical activity, the issue with screen time is not always what it does, but rather what it doesn’t do. For example, it may potentially displace meaningful real-life interactions and playtime with others, stalling opportunities for social and language development. 

  • Exposure to potentially harmful content. As busy parents, it can be incredibly hard to stay on top of everything our kids get exposed to, especially when it comes to the Internet and social media platforms. This is a risk you can mitigate by employing parental control settings, as well as teaching your older children basic tech safety skills.

Parents, Rejoice – It’s Not All Bad!

Before 2 years of age, screen time appears to have little to no benefits regardless of what your baby is exposed to, as their brains are simply not developed enough to adequately process this kind of information. 

Unfortunately, just because a show is labelled as “educational” or is led by a “real teacher”, for this age group it doesn’t appear to make much of a difference (although if screen time is offered, real people and slower pace are definitely the best choice).

An exciting exception to this is video chatting with friends and family and attending a virtual playgroup also counts!

But once your little love is a bit older, screen time can actually offer many tangible benefits!

For example, when quality screen time is balanced with other activities such as physical play, reading and socialising, it can expand your little one’s learning horizons and help them find out more about the world they live in. You may not be able to go on a space family vacation yet, but a planet identification app paired with a clear night sky can be just as fun!

Another way quality screen time can help your little one is by showcasing and encouraging a variety of positive behaviours. For example, you could watch a slow-paced kids show with kind characters that model values such as teamwork, sharing and helping others.

And of course, age-appropriate, good quality apps and shows can foster creativity by expanding on your child’s hobbies and interests. 

Choosing Quality Programming

You will probably intuitively know what’s best for your little one – but here are some basic guidelines for choosing good quality digital content!

Good-quality content:

  • Encompasses positive and inclusive messages

  • Exposes kids to common real-life scenarios (like going to school or visiting a zoo)

  • Includes ideas for off-screen creative play

  • Encourages movement

  • Prompts meaningful conversations

It’s best to avoid content that:

  • Celebrates mean behaviours or violence

  • Has hidden ads and product placement

  • Is too complex for a specific age group to process

You will likely have more to add based on your family’s values and beliefs, and this is what it’s all about – making informed decisions that suit your lifestyle and circumstances best.

Conclusion

Remember, screens are not the evil villains we sometimes make them out to be, but rather the quirky sidekicks in our modern parenting adventures. 

It's all about balance, boundaries, and the occasional 'no' that leads to a whole lot of 'yes' in the real world of giggles, discoveries, and pillow forts. 

Benson Tait

Benson Tait

Design . Digital . Fathering . Husbanding . Surviving . Founder

A man who loves design, technology, food and his family of two young girls and a smart gorgeous wife, who is on a mission to make parenting easier and help kids flourish for a happier home.

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