Managing children’s screen time

Television, computers, tablets and phones are all windows to the wider world for young children.

They see all sorts of things that influence their development in good and bad ways, so it’s important we know what they’re watching.

How TV affects children

Babies and toddlers

The first two years are important for brain development. Babies learn and grow best by talking and playing with real people, not screen people. Using TV for companionship, distraction or to promote sleep can become a habit in later life.

Kindy-aged children

Screen images start to become more interesting to children at this age. However, lifetime habits are formed in the kindy years. Children under six have difficulty understanding the difference between fantasy and reality.

School-aged children

Children aged six to nine years still have some difficulty understanding the difference between fantasy and reality, especially if it looks like real life. They can believe that TV situations depict real families or real places. They tend to admire and want to be like their TV hero or heroine.

How much screen time for children?

Don’t forget screen time covers everything from TVs and computers to a mobile phone.

  • Under two years – no screen time is the best choice.
  • Two to five years – no more than one hour a day.
  • Five and older – no more than two hours a day.
Screen time and children

Some tips for parents on managing screen time.

What not to watch:

When choosing screen material for your baby or toddler, avoid:

  • programs and DVDs not specifically designed for young children.
  • scary visual images.
  • advertising, because babies can recognise logos and link them with exciting colours and happy sounds but do not understand that advertisements are designed to sell things.

When choosing screen material for your kindy-aged child, avoid:

  • scary or sad visual images
  • violent content
  • scary fantasy images, including supernatural elements and characters that are dangerous or monstrous
  • advertising, because they do not understand advertisements are designed to sell things.

When choosing screen material for your school-aged child, avoid:

  • scary images, because this age group might still be upset by material showing the death of a parent or threats to children and animals
  • violent content
  • news programs, because reports of natural disasters and violent crimes can make them feel unsafe
  • advertising, because they believe messages that tell them certain products will help them be popular and successful
  • music video programs, because adult themes are common.
Managing screen time

Children who develop healthy screen time habits are likely to continue the same way when they are older.

  • Help your children choose some favourite programs to watch.
  • Keep meal times TV-free so there is time to talk.
  • Avoid screen time in the mornings.
  • Make a rule that programs are not switched on until homework or chores are done.
  • Set a bedtime based on your child’s age, rather than around the program schedule.
  • Make sure you know how long your child spends on the computer and what websites they visit.
Using screen time

Young children, especially toddlers, will enjoy programs and DVDs more if you sit down and watch with them. Talk with your child about what they are seeing:

  • Explain what’s happening.
  • Respond to their reactions.
  • Point out when characters behave in good and not-so good ways.
  • Give them a chance to ask questions.
When the screen is off

It’s good have other things to entertain and stimulate your child:

  • A special box of games, puzzles, colouring books or toys; the toys need not be expensive or fancy, just things your child does not see all the time.
  • Music or story CDs. Kindy-aged children can make up dance moves or turn the pages on a story CD.

Image Child is engaged in watching television

Published — 03 August 2016 Last updated — 28 August 2018

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