Put down the iPad! How to help your kids away from the screens

Hugo, son of Janelle McNichols from the WSLHD Health Promotion team, enjoys some quality time outdoors.

Is your pre-schooler always playing with your mobile or iPad? Is your teenager messaging their friends under the dinner table? Are you concerned that your children see you on your phone too much throughout the day?

The Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Report found that the majority of Australian children are spending more than the recommended two-hour daily limit for screen time – including watching television, on computers and playing electronic games.

At 4-5 years old, children average more than two hours screen time per week-day.

By 12-13 years old, this increases to more than three hours average per week-day and almost four hours per weekend day.

This means that up to 30 per cent of a child’s waking time is spent in front of a screen!  

There is growing evidence that over-using screens, televisions, mobile phones, iPads, computers and computer games potentially cause significant negative health effects in children.

Learn how much time your children should spend in front of screens and how you can manage screen time at home, by viewing our fact sheets on screens (and other healthy lifestyle behaviours) at Healthy Kids Western Sydney.

“We know screen time and screen use are normal parts of life for most children and teenagers, but we also know that screens can lead to harmful effects on children,” said Christine Newman, Deputy Director from the Centre of Population Health.

Children under two don’t learn from screens as well as they do from live interactions and excessive screen time during the early years can be linked to increased loneliness, depression, withdrawal and attention problems.

Down the track, television viewing time can also be linked to youth obesity.

Ms Newman says Screen Free Week, 3-9 May, is a good opportunity to check in on whether your child is using screens in a balanced and healthy way.

“While it may be hard to completely shut down screens for a week, we encourage parents to use this time to consider: is your child sleeping enough? Are they being active? Are they engaged with school? Are they connecting socially with family and friends offline?

“If you answered ‘No’ to any of these, perhaps reassessing screen time in your household could be a simple way of making some small changes for some longer-term health benefits,” Christine continued.

Here are five reasons why your children will benefit from a screen-free week:

  1. It gives their brain a break.

Having too much screen time is not healthy for the brain. It releases chemicals such as adrenaline and dopamine that can affect brain development.

Tip: Make sure meal times stay screen-free.

  1. It helps your family reset priorities.  

Screens replace important face-to-face interaction with family and friends. Instead of spending time on a screen, think about ways your family can be active together.

Autumn is a great time of year to visit local parks, sporting fields and walking tracks. Find out more information about walking in western Sydney.

Tip: Schedule in screen-free time as a family throughout the week.

  1. It provides children time to explore other interests.

Facilitate and encourage other interests and skills such as cooking, dancing, and reading. Screen use is also linked to eating unhealthy snacks.

Tip: Choose healthier snacks for your family.

  1. It helps children re-discover play.

Children learn through play. Throwing a ball, digging in the dirt, and building things are all important for growth and development.

Tip: Let’s give all children as many opportunities to play as possible.

  1. It supplies a reality check.

Having a screen free week will give you a real insight into your family’s health behaviours. It will also enable you to set some healthy limits to screen use.

Tip: Have a screen free week with your kids!