Whether we like it or not, screens are an inevitable part of our daily lives, including the lives of our children. For this reason, it’s important to consider how to balance the benefits and risks of these devices for our kids.

Screen time is the time spent each day using devices with screens, such as televisions, computers, video consoles, smartphones and tablets. Child development experts recommend limiting children’s screen time and particularly making sure it doesn’t interfere with sleep, play and physical activity. Yet the 2014–2015 national health survey found that, on average, Aussie kids aged 5–17 years spent around one and a half hours per day on physical activity but more than two hours per day on screen-based activity. And physical activity reduced and screen-time increased with age.

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides some useful guidelines for families when it comes to the use of screen-based media. They suggest that you:

  • Develop, consistently follow, and regularly review a Family Media Use plan.
    Consider what type of and how much media are used and what media behaviours are appropriate for each child or teenager (and parents – being a good role model is important!).
  • Place consistent limits on hours per day of media use as well as types of media used.
    Encourage children and adolescents to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity and adequate sleep.
  • Recommend that children not sleep with devices in their bedrooms and avoid exposure to devices or screens for one hour before bedtime.
  • Discourage entertainment media while doing homework.
  • Designate media-free times together (e.g. the family dinner) and media-free locations (e.g. bedrooms).
  • Encourage screen-free activities that are likely to facilitate development and health such as reading, teaching, talking, and playing together.
  • Communicate guidelines to other caregivers, such as babysitters or grandparents, so that media rules are followed consistently.
  • Select the media that your child views and watch it with them so they can use media to learn to be creative, and share these experiences with you and others.
  • Speak to your children regularly about online responsibility and safety, including treating others with respect, avoiding cyber-bullying and sexting, being wary of online solicitation, and avoiding communications that can compromise personal privacy and safety.
  • Actively develop a network of trusted adults who can engage with children through social media and to whom children can turn when they encounter challenges.