Giant screen TV’s, computers, smart phones, gaming consoles and tablets are just some of the many technologies we have today.

We live in an age where technology is everywhere and is an integral part of our daily life from morning to night … this is the environment my son and your kids were born into.

So, I decided to look at the research on technology and kids to answer the question:

How much technology is safe and beneficial for kids and how is too much and dangerous?

After a little hunt around on the Mouths of Mums website, I found other mums were worried about their kids using technology too… here are some of their issues, concerns and questions:

Technology use in kids- evolutionary or not?

I am a parent and I am torn. My 8 month old already knows how to use my iPhone (we don’t let her play with it but have left it around and she’s grabbed it). Part of me feels this is an evolutionary aspect however another part is very concerned. What is your view on kids and technology?

Too much technology?

I find that whenever my kids (or my partner for that matter) have any spare time, they all want to sit in front of either the computer, the iPods or the TV. Do other mums worry about this? What have other mums done to mix things up a bit more?

Like you I am a worried mum, so I thought a good place to start was the official recommendations for screen times.

Official recommendations:

Recommendations from Australia, New Zealand and the US are similar.

  • NO screen time for children aged between 0-2 years. That’s right 0 hours of screen time – no tablet, DVD, smart phone, computer or TV in the background or foreground.
  • Less than 1 hour per day screen time for children 2-5 years old.
  • Between 1-2 hour maximum out of school hours per day screen time for children aged between 5-18 years.

Furthermore there are strong recommendations for no technology in bedrooms as this can have the largest negative impact on children, and that these hours are the ‘upper limits’. It is better to have less than the maximum of two hours.

Why the limitations? What’s the harm?

While there are certainly studies that show that children can experience educational and other benefits by interacting with technology under the right conditions, this article focuses on the research that looks at the harm of excessive use of technology outside of school use.

Something that surprised me was that most of the research on screen time focuses on television and gaming. So, the key researchers looking at screen time caution that we don’t really know the full extent of the potential short-term and long term harm of these other forms of technology on our children’s physical, psychological, social and emotional development until more research is conducted over extended periods of time. So, until the research catches up with modern life, to be safe, it’s best to stay well within the screen time guidelines as these were developed with the known harms in mind.

Research shows that children who have excessive use of technology are more likely to experience:

  • Language and social delays in children under 2 years of age.
  • Less physical activity and greater chance of obesity and other associated illnesses.
  • Greater consumption of snack foods high in sugar/salt/fat.
  • Fewer social interactions.
  • Less reading of books and reduced engagement in creative, imaginative and other play essential for learning and development.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Addiction to adrenaline, instant rewards and stimulation (making everything else ‘boring’).
  • Attention, focus and concentration issues (technology can be a great distracter).
  • Aggressive behaviors (with violent games).

Frightening, right? And the list goes on….These conditions are not something any parent wants their children to experience.

So what can you do?

I suggest you take some time to look at your family, get more information and then work out a strategy.

Strategies for reducing screen time

Here are some ideas recommended in the research and I have tried in our home. I have also added some articles from the Mouths of Mums website – so you have some more great resources to draw on.

  • Educate your children about the harms of screen time so hopefully you won’t have such a fight on your hands. Here’s one example of how we managed it in our home. We spent lots of time explaining to Cameron that TV switches his brain off, giving him experiences of when he was actively doing and passively watching (children’s brains and adults too, become passive when watching TV). He now understands why there is no TV in the morning before school because having a passive brain isn’t a great way to go to school and learn. Educating about harms of technology may not be as easy with your older children – teens and tweens – especially if they are already addicted to screen time. Here is an article that might help with communicating with your teens so as to get the best result – the right amount of screen time and still keep a great relationship.
  • Conduct a screen time audit as a family. List every piece of technology you own and ask everyone to track their daily use. Talk about the results as a family – you might be surprised at how many hours per day you’re on screens – when you add it together. Just 2 weeks ago, after I did this research, I was concerned that we were all spending a bit too much time on screens in our house and, as an experiment, we packed the TV away for 2 weeks. Wow! What a difference it has made – and we don’t even watch that much TV. What I have seen is that we all seem calmer and more relaxed without the background noise. We talk more, we’ve played games (indoors and out) more often with the extra time, read more books and we even started a new big family project. We are building Lego scenes to make our very own first stop motion movie. Stay tuned! Once it’s done I’ll put it up on Mouths of Mums! I’m not sure I want the TV back – it’s been so good. Even my husband suggested perhaps we should only watch TV on the weekends when we bring it back. And Cameron has only mentioned he wished we had the TV once and my husband mentioned it once too when the world cup started. Why not try a screen free day on the weekend and have a great day out together.
  • Set limits: pick specific programs, days and times for screens. In our home, Cameron is allowed to play games for short periods of time on the weekend. The games are no-where to be seen during the week ( we hide them so he doesn’t see them or even ask for them). Dinner time is screen free time for everyone. Being a good role model is so important. We use family dinner time to talk and share about the highlights of our day and any challenges we might be having.We allow our son to watch TV after school for up to 1 hour a day with shows that are educational, interactive and engaging. Where possible we are nearby or watching with him. I have to say Master Chef and other cooking shows are family favourites and Cameron learns so much! Just last night he said he wanted to make his salad using half a red capsicum as the bowl. He gobbled it up and exclaimed “mum the capsicum is the hero of the dish”! He’s just 6! So cute right? Watching TV with your kids is a way the research says you can mitigate some of the many harms of TV viewing for children. Here is an article that explains how you can turn TV time into learning time.
  • Take all technology out of the bedroom and turn TV’s and other background noise off. Excessive screen time has been shown to harm a child’s ability to focus and keep their attention on tasks and it can make them hyper vigilant. No-one wants over stimulated kids. This can affect children’s nervous system and can result in anxiety, difficulties sleeping and challenges with maintaining a feeling of calm. This article provides some great ideas to help children calm.
  • Finally, in this article there are some more ideas for making technology work effectively and safely in your home.

As with most things in life, use of technology is all about balance and knowing what and how much screen time is right for your family and your child depending on their age and development. I sincerely hope this post has helped you to understand more about the recommendations, potential harms and has given you ideas for reducing screen time in your home, to support you and your children to live long, healthy and happy lives with and without technology!


  • I would much prefer my kids get outside and play. Get some sunshine exercise and use their imagination. Alas, technology is such a big part of life today, to stop them having access would be setting them back. So we need to find that balance

    Reply


  • I think it all depends on the age of the child.

    Reply


  • Loved the article. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply


  • kids of today’s generation spend more time on tech devices, than my combined childhood days!

    Reply


  • great article!
    i think we have to find a balance and monitor it all

    Reply


  • great article, thanks for sharing

    Reply


  • This was a great read and yes their is way to much technology in our children’s lives. My boys always get some new outdoor toys for every birthday and christmas and spend more time outside than inside even though they have technology inside.


    • Its all about balance isn’t it and I think you are on to something
      If parents buy outdoor toys/activities for birthday and Christmas it encourages outdoor play – if we buy technology it supports indoor play – simple supply and demand from my economics classes…
      thanks for sharing

    Reply


  • They have the rest of their lives to use technology but only a few short years to jump rope, dig in a sand pit and do cartwheels. Lets just let kids be kids.

    Reply


  • I am lucky. We live in an active community and the kids spend most of their time outside with the other kids in the street. In saying that we don’t own a play station or any of those things either!


    • That is fantastic! I was lucky to grow up playing outside too – I have wonderful memories – and so will your children

    Reply


  • There’s plenty of educational programs available via technology but also a lot that has nothing to do with it, hopefully I’ll be consistent with the moderation approach I’m taking. Usually, through the weekday, books, puzzles & make-believe are still the favs.


    • I know! Puzzles, make believe, music, art and craft are wonderful creative ways for children to learn and have fun without technology… just like the good old days when we were kids

    Reply


  • I think with all the technological educational games and television shows aimed specifically at the young age group is beneficial to their learning and development. I find my kids learning numbers, letters, songs and sounds by watching these shows and playing these games. I do limit the time they spend on them but I think it is like anything – ok in moderation.


    • You are right, there are some wonderful opportunities for learning using technology … when used in moderation and carefully chosen. BUT parents can’t be naive when it comes to the many possible harms. Thanks for your comments

    Reply


  • This is a daily struggle, with the father of the family encouraging and leading by example. It’s hard to keep the TV off most days. I try and leave it off until asked for, and he then sits and plays in front of it. (almost 4 year old) being so young and having a short attention span helps. But this is a good topic that I think about daily……


    • I completely understand – it is so much easier if both parents are on the same page and lead by example. I talk to my husband about this too… and of course I need a reminder now and again … thanks for your comment

    Reply


  • My parents were told by a top eye specialist several years ago that it is bad for your eyes if you sit too close to a TV screen, even more so for children. Imagine how bad a computer, IPhone, IPad etc.must be. Children are wearing glasses at a much younger age than they were a few years ago. Children should not be learning spelling and basic arithmetic via computer.
    Teachers should be correcting spelling that children do in school time, even if they don’t mark errors in their homework. Even teachers in some private schools don’t do so. Luckily some parents check their child’s homework before it is handed in.


    • What a great point you make about the physical effects on children’s eyes of too much screen time – thanks for the comment!

    Reply


  • my children always want the ipad or computer so I have made a limit on games but will allow longer if its school related or educational as one has learning issues
    been told about 2 hours a day is good
    but in saying that they will go outside and play as well and do not live in front of these devises that much
    think it is what works for the family I guess.


    • It is all about balance – inside time, outside time, time to read, to think, to draw, to talk to play, to listen, to relate, to cook, to clean … so many things kids can do other than play computer games

    Reply


  • there are so many opinions about this, I think it is up to the parent to decide how much is too much


    • My friend has a young son who is autistic and he loves his IPad it calms him and he is always carrying it around and playing games on it



      • I agree that all families are different, but I think it is important to make our decisions for our children with credible information rather than just different opinions … something to think about anyway

    Reply

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