How much screen time should children have? We asked one of our educational and developmental psychologists what they thought about screen time and why educational toys can serve as a fantastic alternative.

There’s no doubt that screens (phones and tablets) have proved to be fantastic learning and development tools for children – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s easy for parents to provide their child with a screen that provides easy access to entertainment, whether that be through the puzzles offered in mobile games, something to watch in an app, or even an educational program like Reading Eggs. However, research and our educational psychologists suggest that excessive screen usage can be detrimental to children’s health (especially their eyes), and screens can’t achieve the same levels of positive engagement as toys and other social activities! So, how much screen time should children have each day?

Eye Health and Screens

 

According to research published by The Lancet Digital Health, there is a significant link between excessive screen time and a higher risk of developing myopia or short-sightedness. Myopia permanently changes the eye to refract light incorrectly, making object near to your vision sharp at the cost of deteriorating your long distance vision. This research suggests that mobile phone usage increases your risk of developing myopia by 30%, and combine with excessive computer usage, that risk jumps up to a staggering 80%.

These numbers are likely confronting to you – they certainly were for us. And in a world where screen use has become largely unavoidable, it seems all but a hopeless reality that most children will develop myopia. But, our psychologists have a few tips to help lessen the impact on your children’s eyes, while bettering their engagement with play in the process.

 

How Much Screen Time Should Children Have?

 

This is a bit of a trick question, and would be better rephrased: “How much non-screen time should children have each day?” Our educational psychologist and director, Danielle Copplin poses that rather than focusing on restricting your child’s screen access, aim to see that they are getting at least 2 hours of alternate forms of outdoor play per day – riding bikes, scooters, bushwalking, walking the dog, flying kites etc. Making sure that little ones are taking breaks from screens during the day gives their eyes a rest and gets them utilising their medium and long distance vision again, all without out-rightly denying them the screen time that they desire.

Another great reason to incorporate play with toys into every child’s daily routine is because of the higher levels of engagement that they can achieve. A parent and child spending time together to play with a toy is comparable to the time spent sharing a meal – it inspires conversation and strengthens the relationship. Whereas screen time is more comparable to your child sharing their meal with a screen. While it may be fun for them in the moment, they lose out on the social and emotional connection that is so important for their development.

To summarise, there is no problem with your children using screens, as long as they are getting an adequate amount of other forms of play. We highly encourage parents to get themselves involved in play, whether it be kicking a ball in the park, or building a story together using a train set. When the screens go off, independent play should end and a shared experience between parent and child should begin!

References

Anglia Ruskin University. (2021, October 7). Screen time linked to risk of myopia in young people: High levels of exposure can increase risk of short-sightedness by up to 80%. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 10, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/211007122131.htm

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