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'No screens on school days': 4 parents share exactly how they manage their kids' screen use.

Queensland Health
Thanks to our brand partner, Queensland Health

Kids today can watch or play anything, anytime. Literally everything is available at the touch of a button. No wonder they can’t get enough of it.

Screen time is an area of concern for most parents. We all wonder if we’re getting it right.

Queensland Health has produced a fascinating three-minute documentary called Square Eyes (watch below) looking at the impact of screen time on Queensland kids with experts in the field.

Rather than suggesting that we can’t have devices or the TV on in the background, Director of Psychology at Children’s Health Queensland Josie Sorban tells us that screen time “is not, in itself a bad thing – it’s how we use it”.

Watch: Queensland Health’s Square Eyes documentary. Post continues after video.

Sorban feels that it’s not about banning screens altogether, it’s about controlling their use.

Queensland Health’s Healthier. Happier. guidelines tool is a handy reference tool sourced from national guidelines that you can use to check the amount of screen time for your child, depending upon their age.

The recommendations are as below:

  • Kids five to 17: no more than two hours per day
  • Kids two to five: less than one hour per day
  • Kids under two: no screen time

However, according to the Australian Child Health Poll, 60 per cent of primary school-aged children and 85 per cent of teenagers are already spending more than two hours using screens on a typical weekday.

Mamamia spoke to four parents about how they manage their children’s screen time to see what works, and what doesn’t, in practise.

“We have no handheld screens on school days” – Jo.

Jo has two children aged six and eight. She used to let them use handheld screens before and after school but recently changed her rules.

“I found that over time it became their default setting,” Jo tells Mamamia. “They would reach for the screens as soon as they got up or as soon as we walked in the door. They wouldn’t answer if I spoke to them. It was infuriating.

“I could see how addictive the screens had become, so we implemented a rule of no screens before or after school. They just play, read, draw or throw the ball with the dog now.

“On the weekends we let them have screens when they wake up (at the crack of dawn) until we head out to the beach or wherever we are going that day; and then in the afternoons when we are at home for an hour or so.

“We don’t take screens if we go out to eat, but we would let them have a device if we were going on a very long car trip, say two hours or more.”

“They need to do some physical activity first” – Ali.

Ali is a mother of two children aged eight and 11. She shared with Mamamia that the biggest hurdle with her kids and screens is their behaviour when it’s time to switch them off.

“They’ll carry on so much that it makes me think, is it even worth using them if it makes them so upset?” she shares.

So, Ali sets time limits for her kids, so that they know how long they have on the device before it will be packed away. She also doesn’t allow them to use screens before school, as she believes it affects their behaviour and ability to listen later on.

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As for after school or on the weekends, Ali and her husband have found a way to get the kids moving first.

“We implemented a rule that the kids need to have done some sort of physical activity first before they can use a screen,” Ali explains. “That means they need to have played outside, ridden their bike, or jumped on the trampoline for a good while before I’ll even consider giving them a screen.

“This works well for us because given the opportunity they would just sit on their screens all day long. We have a Wii, which is an active way to use screens, but it’s not their preference.”

“My boys can use screens for one hour each day” – Kate.

Kate is a mother of three boys aged two, six and nine. For her family, having set times for screen use for her older children works really well.

“My two older boys are allowed to use the tablet or computer each day at 4.30pm for an hour. I let them know when they have 10 minutes to go, then five minutes to go, and then they are pretty good at switching them off at 5.30pm,” Kate says.

“I find that the set times reduce the nagging for screens at other times. They like knowing that they’ve got this set time to play games or watch videos online.”

It can be a little trickier with a toddler in the mix, though.

“For my two year old I try very hard not to let him have access to screens, but it’s difficult when he sees his brothers on them,” Kate adds. “Normally while the older boys are on screens he will help me make dinner, or I will sit with him and play a game. Sometimes we might watch something on TV together, but I try to avoid that if I can. It’s tricky.”

“The amount of technology in high school has been eye-opening”- Nell.

When Nell’s 14-year-old daughter started high school, she was surprised that all of the girls had mobile phones and needed laptops for classes.

“The school sends out phone notifications to the students about classroom changes or project reminders,” Nell reveals. “They are even allowed to use their phones to take photos of the whiteboards in class.

“The phones need to be on aeroplane mode, but they’re still within arm’s reach all day. All assignments and homework are submitted online. It’s all so technology-focused, there’s no getting away from it.”

However, a lot of schools are banning phone use in class altogether, which will be a relief for parents like Nell.

“For us, we really just have to trust that she is doing the right thing with screens at home,” Nell adds. “When she is on the laptop we don’t really know for certain if she is doing homework or is on social media.”

Families like Nell’s are grappling with the balance between necessary screen time – technology is an important part of education and learning – and screen time that goes beyond homework.

“When she was younger, we had strict rules about screen time which I think has taught her the skills to keep herself safe online and to know when to turn it off and have a break,” she adds.

“We encourage her to give us her mobile phone to put away before bed so that she’s not distracted by notifications at night.”

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What the experts say about reducing screen time.

square eyes
A simple and helpful summary from Square Eyes. Image: Queensland Health.

The Square Eyes documentary shares this two-phase approach to help parents reduce their children’s time spent on devices:

> Phase 1: getting active with screens. Is there a way to use screens in an active way? This might mean playing a song and dancing to it, or playing an online game that requires kids to get active.

> Phase 2: negotiate healthy limits. Try to explain to the kids the reasons why we need to set limits for screen use. See if there is an opportunity for a parent to encourage the kids to put away the screens and head outside to play together instead.

It’s not just the mindless staring at the screen that’s the issue, it’s the fact that kids are not active when they’re on a device. There’s also the opportunity for mindless eating to occur at the same time.

In Square Eyes, Professor Stewart Trost, the Director of the Queensland Centre for Children’s Health Research, shares the scary statistic that ‘a screen in the bedroom is "one of the most powerful predictors of being overweight later in life".

This can lead to huge health problems, and it's a concern for a lot of parents.

All we can do is be active in our role of supporting children to make the best decisions for a healthier life. That also means being conscious of how much we use our phones in front of them as well.

"We don’t judge parents," Professor Trost explains. "We all use screens. The challenge is to not make it a lifestyle choice."

He adds: "If we can teach children to make their own choices then we can really see a difference."

For more information to help you with your child's screen time, visit Queensland Health's Healthier. Happier. website

Feature image: Getty.

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