Silver linings from COVID-19 lockdowns: what western Sydney families want more of

Silvia Ibrahim with her children, 12 year-old James and eight year-old Joy at a local park.

Parents throughout western Sydney are wanting to increase family time and reduce digital screen time according to new research out of the Western Sydney Local Health District.

Over 1,300 local parents were surveyed by the WSLHD population health team about changes in their children’s and family’s movement behaviours and food intake during the first outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020.

The research shows that what parents want most for their families after lockdown is to continue family time, including doing activities they had increased during restrictions such as walking, bike riding and bush walking, and to spend less time on screen devices.

Pemulwuy mum of two, Silvia Ibrahim, said that for her family, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders provided an opportunity for her family to spend more time together.

“We would go for a daily walk; their dad would take them to the bike track; and if the kids wanted a break from their schoolwork, I took them to the park just next to our house,” Silvia said.

“The time that we shared as a family is definitely a COVID ‘silver lining’.”

Although this is a narrative many families share, virtual classrooms, virtual playdates and restrictions on time spent outdoors also saw children become more dependent on electronic devices than ever.

Research co-author, Janelle McNicholas from WSLHD’s Health Promotion team, said the concerns around increased screen time were particularly worrying as evidence shows this can lead to long term screen use habits that could negatively impact children’s health and wellbeing. 

What families said they want to do more or less of after lockdown:

“We know screen time can be a challenge for parents regardless, but with lockdown, we experienced something different,” explained Janelle.

“Screens were being used for more than just occasional recreation – they were vital for schoolwork, socialising and sometimes for keeping children entertained while parents worked from home.

“We know for some, this helped with social connectivity and online education at the time, but for longer periods of restrictions, such as the second lockdown in 2021, this could potentially have a less than positive effect on general health and mental wellbeing,” said Janelle.

The research identified that broader environmental strategies need to be considered to help regulate screen use outside the home, such as in school environments.

“The health promotion team are working on developing new ways to help our early childhood settings and primary schools in western Sydney prioritise movement behaviours into their programs,” said Janelle.

What is the recommended screen time for 0 to 12 year olds?

Like Silvia and her family, parents surveyed said they wanted to continue going on family walks and bike rides together as a family after lockdown.

“This feedback really highlights the importance of public recreational facilities, parks and open green space, plus walking and cycling tracks for those who may not have a backyard or live in a smaller space,” added Janelle.

“Councils played a vital role during COVID-19, encouraging physical activity in communities by keeping the lights on in the evenings at parks, increasing access to public toilets and promoting local green open space, parks, and cycling and walking paths.

“Based on this research, they will continue to play a vital role moving forward as well.”   

As for Silvia, lockdown has emphasised the importance of walking away from her computer at  the end of her workday and she hopes this is a habit she is able to continue.

“Lockdown has reemphasised that family time is something to be cherished, and at 5 o’clock on the dot, I’m switching off my laptop,” said Silvia.

“My family comes first.”

Keen to explore public spaces in your local area? Find local walking tracks in Western Sydney.

Want to know more about healthy screen use? Download Healthy Lifestyle Fact Sheets (Translations available).

The research has been published in Frontiers in Public Health: