Parents struggling to contain screen time for children of all ages


New research from the Royal Children's Hospital has found children are spending excessive amounts of time in front of screens and ownership of a smartphone or tablet is now the norm for kids of all ages.

Mother-of-two Alice Pryor says like most kids her two children Charlie and Annabell are easily lost in a world of Minecraft and make believe.

The main problem, she said, is getting the devices turned off.

Charlie and Annabel on the iPad
Charlie and Annabel on the iPad

As a representative of Parents' Voice, an online network of mums and dads, Ms Pryor said it's not uncommon for any child to show their dark side when computer time ends.

"There's a lot of parents we talk to who talk about the behavioural change in their child," she said.

"They have what they think is a placid child who is suddenly screaming because you've turned off Minecraft."

New research shows that two-thirds of parents battle their children about turning off devices on a daily basis.

The Royal Children's Hospital study shows the vast majority of children are far exceeding the recommended national guidelines of no more than two hours of screen time a day.

However, Ms Pryor said it doesn't mean parents should feel guilty.

"If you can turn some music on and have a bit of a dance while you get stuff done around the house that's preferable, but you have to do what you need to do to get through your life and parenting."

Alice Pryor of Parents' Voice
Alice Pryor of Parents Voice

The author of the research and pediatrician at the Royal Children's Hospital Dr Anthea Rhodes said it's a new era of iParenting.

"Really what we learnt is just how much screens have become a part of life for Australian kids, even for very young children with a third of preschoolers owning their own smart phone of tablet device."

The research found while almost all Australian teenagers (94%) have a phone or tablet, 67% of primary school kids and 36% of preschoolers have their own mobile devices.

More than 40% (43%) of kids have screen time before bed, with the average weekly consumption up to 32 hours per week.

Dr Rhodes said the consequences of excessive screen time is taking a toll.

"Every hour a child spends on a device is an hour they're not doing something else.

"So there is an opportunity cost where if children spend an excessive amount of time on screens they're not getting enough physically active play or face to face social interaction with other individuals."

Dr Anthea Rhodes Royal Children's Hospital
Dr Anthea Rhodes Royal Childrens Hospital

And it's the psychological effects of replacing human interaction with digital interaction that has doctors concerned about the mental development of the next generation.

Dr Rhodes said real human interaction is essential for brain development.

"In young children, it's consequences like difficulty regulating emotions and developing language, and in older children problems with mood and things like bullying."

But with parents averaging 40 hours a week, the older generation is setting the example.

The research shows 62% of parents have experienced a family conflict due to the use of screen-based devices

And with technology showing no signs of turning back, Alice Pryor said the only way forward is to learn to live with the devices.

"We're definitely the iGeneration, the iParents, and we're the first generation of parents to have this level of availability of screens for our kids. So we're going to be the frontier of how we manage that."

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