Screen time should be shared time

Children are heavy users of screens and they need some guidance as to what is acceptable and where screen use starts to be negative.
Oct 6, 2020
Screen the screen
Supervision and shared time needed when it comes to screens

We are all deeply involved with screens, a large proportion of our waking lives is spent looking into them. They’re essential for many activities but there’s a difference between what is useful and what is damaging.

Children are heavy users of screens and they need some guidance as to what is acceptable and where screen use starts to be negative.

Professor Julie Green is a senior leader in parenting and child and family health and wellbeing, she is the Executive Director of the Raising Children Network and has established successful partnerships that have positioned the body and its website as a leader in online parenting portals.

Prof Green has led the development of digital resources for parents arising from recommendations from parliamentary inquiries and Royal Commissions, national parenting strategies and COAG Advisory Panels.

She says, “It is important to break up screen time with other activities like creative play, reading, physical exercise and socialising. This is because children need their brains and bodies to be engaged in different ways in order to stay healthy, including through face to face interaction with family and peers, moving their bodies in different ways, and hands-on activities that help build the motor and cognitive skills that often aren’t engaged through screen activities.

“Signs that your child’s screen use may be becoming unhealthy include aches and pains from sitting in the same position for too long, a lack of interest in other types of activities, or difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviour.

“The time children spend watching TV, using computers, gaming consoles, tablets and smartphones can be part of a healthy lifestyle. If used in a balanced way, it can help promote learning, bonding with others, and even physical activity (e.g. using health and exercise apps)," Prof Green says.

It’s also essential that screen time is spent consuming quality material, there’s plenty to be found online and, no, Ssundee doesn’t count.

“When using screens, stick to good quality content that ties in with your child’s interests, sparks their imagination or builds on something they are learning at school. You can also encourage children to make informed decisions about their tech usage by talking with them about the information and ideas they are engaging with through screens.”

Rather than leaving kids alone with screens, sharing screen activities with them is one way to spend some time with kids and add some guidance and supervision.

“Sharing screen time with your child can be a great way to build trust, communication and connection, and strengthen your relationship. It gives you the chance to learn more about what interests your child and sends the message that these interests are important to you,” Prof Green says.

 Some ideas for sharing screen time include:

  • Searching online for something you’re both interested in such as a new recipe to cook for dinner or a weekend activity
  • Playing an ongoing game together, like Scrabble.
  • Getting active whilst using technology together, for example going for a hike and using a mapping app.
  • Watching a favourite show together and talking about the stories and ideas in the show.

“As a parent one of the most important things you can do to promote healthy screen behaviours is to model healthy screen usage yourself. This means setting rules that demonstrate what role you would like screens to play in your family (e.g. no screens at the dinner table because it’s important to spend time connecting and having conversations together), as well as interacting with devices in ways you would like your children to follow.

“An important part of modelling healthy screen practices is to not let screens distract you from interacting with your children, or from fully participating in other household activities. This is why tips like not answering notifications or messages while you are talking to your child, and turning the TV off if you’re not actively watching it, can offer helpful guidance,” Prof Green says.

Professor Julie Green
Julie holds concurrent appointments as Principal Research Fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Honorary Principal Fellow at The University of Melbourne and Professor, School of Social Sciences, Western Sydney University. Julie has a PhD (University of Melbourne), Master of Public Health (La Trobe University), Graduate Diploma in Adult Education (University of Melbourne), Certificate of Nursing and Certificate of Midwifery and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. is a free, independent online parenting resource that provides up-to date, evidence-based information about raising children. Funded by the Australian Government and reviewed by experts, the website features a myriad of articles, videos and interactive resources that have been tailored to different ages and stages, taking families through nurturing a newborn to raising a confident, resilient teen.

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