It seems our young people are ever more fascinated with virtual worlds and all the excitement they offer, and less engaged with the real world in which they live. The digital universe can be a wonderful source of information, entertainment and inspiration. It can be an easy and convenient way to stay in touch with many different friendship groups. But it can also be a place where negativity and bullying may run rife.
Screen time can impact negatively on mental health, sleep and social skills. The impact of screen time should be monitored and it should be addressed as soon as there are signs of it affecting a young person’s ability to participate in daily life or complete everyday tasks…
2 Hours. The general rule is no more than two hours a day in total screen time — including skype, TV, DS, Xbox, Wii, smart phones, i-pods, tablets, lap-tops & PCs. So, how do you manage screen time and keep it to reasonable levels?
- It is best to start early rather than once a problem has emerged… but it is never too late to have an open conversation and to engage with your young person about screen time. Explain that there are limits that you consider appropriate, give them some space to negotiate and have their say and come to a family agreement. Also, talk about the consequences of not following these rules (for example, time over the limit on one day reduces the time permitted the following day).
- Establish clear boundaries on when, where and how, as well as how much. Pre-record the TV shows they want to watch for viewing at appropriate times, without ads to both make viewing time “more efficient” and prevent TV viewing just rolling into hour after hour. For You-Tube create a watch list together to prevent aimless “surfing” eating up their allowable time. When gaming, set a timer to create an audio cue to stop playing, as many games are specifically designed to encourage continuous play.
- Balance their day and be involved. Parents who are involved in their children’s activities, and who encourage and support their children’s interests, have children who spend less time on screens.
- Be a positive role model. Reduce your own screen time, be involved in other activities (music, sport, art, bushwalking, etc) and share these activities with your children and teens.
- Support quality choices. Talk about the shows, movies, images they watch. Talk about quality and role model good choices — involve young people in watching good quality when you can. Talk about the possible negative impact of media and types of entertainment.
- Reduce multi-tasking. Flipping from homework to You-Tube to FaceBook is terribly tempting, but incredibly inefficient when it comes to completing any task. Make time for recreational screen use after homework is competed. Explain that if school work is fully focused on it will be over faster!
- Take screens out of the bedroom. Buy a retro alarm clock for the end of the bed. Leave phones, i-pods, personal DVD players, gaming consoles, tablets & laptops to charge in the kitchen or study overnight, rather than in the bedroom. Computers, TVs, etc are best located in a room other than the bedroom. Ensure adequate screen-free time before lights out to help the mind wind down.
- Find ways to say “Yes”. Encourage and support creative or active pursuits that tap into digital interests, without increasing screen time. For example, suggest your young person try their hand at making their own stop-motion or clay-mation movie, rather than just watching those posted by other people. Fencing is a sport that may appeal to a MineCraft or Runscape devotee, and Zombies, Run! is a GPS-linked app that makes a real-life daily run just as exciting as fighting a zombie horde on screen.
Establishing boundaries, finding alternatives, negotiating, and knowing your own limits are key to ensuring screen time does not collapse into scream time. Should you need support working through things and developing screen time guidelines that suit your household dynamics, remember that KYDS counsellors can help.