Seven Tips for Healthier Screen Habits

Are you worried that your kids might be spending too much time in front of the screen? Dr. Kristy Goodwin presents seven tips to establish healthier screen habits and encourage kids to use technology in a healthy and constructive way. After all, a daily dose of technology can be beneficial if it’s done the right way

The internet is a-buzz with viral videos of kids’ meltdowns when their devices are wrestled away. But amidst all the scare talk of toddlers’ techno addiction, some experts believe a daily dose of technology is okay so long as screens are used the right way. But how can you create healthier screen habits for your kids?

Children’s brain and technology researcher, Dr Kristy Goodwin, warns we should be careful of labelling kids as ‘addicted’ to devices. “In the vast majority of circumstances,” she says, “I don’t think young children, especially under the age of eight, can necessarily be addicted to technology. If we look at it as a dependence or an attachment, we can start to just look for small changes and ways in which we can help alter their behaviour.”

Here’s her advice for encouraging kids to use technology in a healthy and constructive way:

1. Look at how your kids use their screen time

Dr Goodwin encourage parents to focus exclusively on the time metric. “What I say to parents instead is look at your kids’ time on screen and consider is it time healthy and helpful?” says Dr Goodwin. “Is it helping to support some of [your child’s] basic needs or is it perhaps encroaching on some of their basic needs? So are they still having enough opportunities every day to sleep, to play, to be physically active, to hear and use language? Are they building relationships?”

“If they’re getting opportunities for those each day, I don’t think we necessarily have to fret about how much time they’re spending with a screen. But if we allow screen time to dominate those basic needs, that’s when I think we can get into trouble.”

2. Ditch your ‘techno guilt’

Dr Goodwin believes that if we’re really mindful and intentional about when we’re using technology, why we’re using it and how our kids are using it, there’s no need for us to feel guilty.

“[Our kids] will inherit this digital world, so I think one of our moral responsibilities as modern parents is to show kids how to use the technology in the right sorts of ways. And certainly having boundaries and rules around their use, but guiding them so that they can find the best ways to use it.”

3. Don’t dunk them in the digital stream too soon

“As a general rule, I say to parents be really cautious about dunking kids into the digital stream too prematurely, so before the age of two, about 15 to 20 minutes a day would be the maximum I’d recommend.”

For two to five year-olds, Dr Goodwin agrees with the Federal Government’s recommended guidelines for screen time. “As a rough guide that’s an hour a day,” she explains. “But an hour with the TV is very different to an hour playing the iPad and creating a digital storybook. So we’ve really got to focus on what they’re doing as opposed to just exclusively looking at how much time they’re spending with devices.”

4. Avoid time limits for under-fives…

“I’m reluctant to recommend time limits, especially for children under five. Most children under the age of five don’t understand the concept of time, it’s very abstract. So saying ‘You’ve got 20 minutes on the iPad’ means absolutely nothing to them.”

“With younger children under five, I often recommend a quantity, so a number of apps or a number of episodes of TV that they can watch. Something that is very specific and measurable for them as opposed to giving them a time metric.”

5. … but set parameters for over-fives

“If (kids) are older than five or they do in fact understand the concept of time,” says Dr Goodwin, “give them firm parameters before it’s switched on and then adhere to those. So using a clock, whether it’s on the device itself or on the microwave, but something that’s external so the child can start to see their elapsed time and enforcing those boundaries.”

“It’s one thing to come up with screen limits (and as a mum, we often get side-tracked and that concept of time disappears for us), but it’s important to enforce those limits and being consistent with that helps.”

6. Have a ‘succession plan’

“It’s basically a transition activity. When kids are on the iPad their brain is often being flooded by lots of the neurotransmitter dopamine. They’re really engaged with what they’re doing so to say to your child ‘Come off and do your maths homework!’ or ‘Come and set the table!’ or ‘Go and tidy your toy room up!’ is really not an ideal transition activity.”

Dr Goodwin explains that we want to entice our child off the technology, but with an activity that is either equally as pleasurable or rewarding because when we don’t do that, that’s when we often see the techno tantrum. “They’re literally having dopamine withdrawals.”

7. Let kids create their own healthier screen habits

“When we empower our children to turn off the technology, they feel like the locus of control is within them. It’s a really trivial gesture but for the child, they actually feel like they have some ownership over ending their time with the technology, as opposed to you yanking the remote control out of their hands or wrestling your iPhone back from them.”

“It’s also about rewarding them and encouraging them, praising them for when they do switch it off because you’ve caught that teachable moment. So it is simple but highly effective.”

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