Look, learn in digital age

HOW does your child's screen time affect their development?

In our digital world, that is a question that has preoccupied scientists, paediatricians and, no doubt, many parents.

Now it seems that there are advantages and disadvantages, depending on content and how much time children spend viewing.

Of course these days it's not just TV we're talking about. It's iPads, mobile phones, and more.

British psychologist Dr Aric Sigman made international headlines when he suggested that, by the time the average child born today reached 80, they would have spent a quarter of their life watching non-related screen technology.

He believes that as time spent looking at a screen or plugging in increases, time spent on direct eye-to-eye contact and developing real-life relationships inevitably decreases.

The World Health Organisation has also identified children's participation in more sedentary forms of recreation, such as playing computer games, as one of the worldwide trends contributing to an overall increase in childhood obesity.

However, The Society for Research in Child Development in the US believes there has been limited research on the positive potential of screen time for youngsters.

Social policy about interactive media for children has understandably focused on health and safety issues: providing parents with information about the appropriateness of content, protecting children online from inappropriate requests for information and from child predators; and providing public scrutiny of the violent content of video games, it says.

"It would also be helpful to inform parents of ways in which positive, enriching media can enhance children's lives.

If educational television has been successful in fostering children's cognitive and social development, one might expect that interactive media would have similar, if not greater, potential."

According to The Parents' Jury, an initiative of Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia - Vic, the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society, VicHealth and YMCA Victoria, excessive screen time may contribute to obesity by taking the place of active play or sport, increasing snacking, and increasing demand for unhealthy food and drinks that are heavily advertised on TV.

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Current Australian guidelines for screen time recommend the following:

  • 5-18 year olds accumulate no more than 2 hours of screen time for entertainment purposes
  • 2-5 year olds accumulate no more than 1 hour of screen time
  • Children younger than two years old do not spend any time viewing TV or other electronic media

Topics:  child development ipads mobile phones world health organisation

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