How Much Is Too Much When It Comes To Your Kid's Device Usage?

20/08/2015 8:21 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Girl reading a tablet

Picture this.

You’re in a crowded doctor’s waiting room, child in tow, waiting for your name to be called. It’s been 40 minutes already and there’s only so many times you can say, ‘not long now, darling.’ Wouldn’t it just be easier – for you, for your child, for the other people in the waiting room – to whip out your smart phone and download a game?

Imagine you decide to do just that, only to be on the receiving end of several disapproving stares. You’re a bad parent. You can’t control your child. Your iPhone is doing your job.

The relationship between children and technology is a sticky one. On one hand there’s no denying that technology will one day inevitably play an important part in their lives, but on the other, no one wants to turn their child into a robot. How young is too young? How much is too much? And can everyone ease up with the judgment, already?

As both a mother and a child psychologist at TheQuirky Kid Clinic, Kimberley O'Brien understands both sides of the argument.

“Little kids need to be active. It’s not natural to see kids slumped over a screen or to see them tired and drained when they should be outside,” said O'Brien. “But when there are important things happening, sometimes it’s OK. For instance yesterday I was at the library and I really needed to research a couple of things, so I had my four year old sitting at my feet just next to me on the iPad.

“I did feel self-conscious, and to be honest the idea of using it as a babysitter isn’t great.”

According to child and educational psychologist Andrew Greenfield, there are three main factors to take into account when considering the relationship between your child and mobile devices.

kids ipad

Supervised screen time can be a beneficial activity.

“You need to look at how long they are spending on it, what they are doing on it, and if someone is interacting with them while they’re doing it,” he said. “Playing on a tablet doesn’t have to be a lone activity. It can be educational, and especially if a parent is interacting with them, it can be a good thing to do.”

Age is also a factor to consider when setting boundaries in your home.

“If you have a three year old spending two hours on a device, that is incredibly excessive in my opinion. You’d really only want them on there for 10 or 15 minutes at the most,” Greenfield said.

“If they are nine or 10 years of age, over the course of the entire day -- before and after school -- I would be saying one and a half hours to two hours, maximum. That’s not including work purposes.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing kids spending three, four, five hours on these things. Often if they have a parent who comes home from work late or there is no supervision and they get carried away. Everyone’s busy and you can forget about it.”

So what red flags should parents be on the lookout for?

“When your child is saying no to social time and they don’t want to come outside or invite friends over. Sneaking it or playing screens at night time and not sleeping. When they’re not interested in physical activity, for instance if you’re going to walk the dog and there’s lots of resistance,” said O’Brien.

Greenfield also listed mood changes and exhibition of obsessive, addictive behaviour as signs you need to put some stricter guidelines in place.

In a bid to restrict her child's screen consumption, Queensland mum Natalie Parrish says she and her husband try not to engage with their own technological devices during the day.

“Archie isn't allowed my phone -- I have no apps or anything for him -- and I try not to use it when he is awake. When I do have it, he really doesn't care too much for it. The iPad pretty much lives in a drawer. He doesn’t know it exists at home. If you don't give them those devices they know no difference.

“It was definitely a conscious decision on our part. I'm scared of the day he has to go to school and they have to use iPads all the time.”

But not all is doom and gloom. As O’Brien states, at the end of the day it’s up to the parent and what they feel comfortable with.

“I think you need to be aware of your child’s body language. If they have just been swamped [with mobile activity] and it seems like they have been there for a long time, that’s not good,” O'Brien said. “I do think that while it’s great to have rules in place, it’s also instinctual.

“It can be difficult for parents. I know many who don’t want to have any screen time in their house but the reality is you don’t want to isolate your children from technology as well.”

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