Australian children spending more time in front of screens

Sailors Gully mother Sammy Lysaght considers herself moderate in the amount of screen time she allows her four-year-old son Joshuah.

He has access to his own television and a carefully curated DVD collection, focusing on educational programs. 

“It’s only me at home, so the TV is the next best thing,” Ms Lysaght said.

“I find it’s great for a bit of extra education.”

There are no set rules about how much time Joshuah is allowed to spend in front of the screen, but his television time is monitored. 

“I don’t find there is an issue,” Ms Lysaght said.

“He goes to bed when he needs to go to bed and does what he has to do.”

Daycare keeps him busy, and there are times when watching TV is a family activity. 

“I’ll sit there with him and get right into the TV with him,” Ms Lysaght said.

Australian children are spending more time in front of a screen, a study has found. 

The Australian Institute of Family Studies found television was the main contributor, and consumption peaked at ages 12-13. 

Children in their early teens spent an average of three hours per weekday and almost four hours per weekend using screens, Institute Director Anne Hollonds said.

That equates to about 20 per cent of their waking time on weekdays, and 30 per cent on weekends.

“By their early teens, 64 per cent of 12 to 13-year-olds are spending considerably more than the Australian Government’s daily recommended two hour daily limit on screen time for entertainment,” she said.

The findings are the result of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, which tracked the screen habits of 4000 children during the past decade. 

Associate Professor Ben Edwards, the study manager, said there had been a steady increase in the time children spent spent watching television, on computers and playing electronic games. 

“Children watched more TV on weekends than weekdays, with overall viewing rates high at age four to five, reducing at six to seven, and then edging their way back up again every two years after that, to peak when kids are 12-13 years old,” he said.

Factors influencing how much time children spend in front of a screen include their access to devices and their level of activity. 

“The proportion of children watching two or more hours daily TV was higher in families with a large number of TVs, when there was a TV is the child’s bedroom and in homes where there are no rules limiting the amount of TV children can watch,” Professor Edwards said. 

The study found a link between physical wellbeing and less screen time. 

Children who spent more time in front of the TV were more likely to consider themselves unfit. 

Those who described themselves as being “high energy” tended to be less interested in screens and had more time for physical activities, Professor Edwards said. 

“Kids who take part in a team sport or activities, like art or music, were less likely to exceed the two hours, particularly boys, whose usage dropped significantly compared to boys without extracurricular activities,” he said.

But is limiting the amount of time children spend on screen entertainment achievable in a digital age?

“While technology can unlock new skills and there is value in children using computers for gathering information and socialising, it may be time to have another look at how realistic these guidelines are,” Professor Edwards said

“However, some management of screen time is important so kids have a quality engagement with television, computers or games and they are not undertaking these activities at the expense of keeping fit and well.

"Parents can help curtail their children’s screen time by setting rules about watching television and not allowing TVs into kids’ bedrooms.”

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