Should you give your phone or tablet to your toddler? It’s a question that’s plagued parents with young children in our tech-driven lives. Now, the new and revised ‘Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines’ released by the Federal Government have come up with an answer not everyone will like.
The official recommendations state that when sedentary, toddlers under the age of two should be given no screen time whatsoever and children aged from two to five should only be given one hour a day in total.
Early childhood expert Tony Okely led the study that largely influenced the new guidelines and said that the health impacts of sedentary screen time were largely negative.
“More screen time is associated with poorer development. . . but we couldn’t find any evidence that could suggest there’s a healthy limit for children under the age of two,” he told Mamamia.
However is this figure realistic? In 2015, Time reported that from 2010 to 2014, the average tablet and smartphone usage for US adults went from just over an hour to nearly five hours a day. So naturally, with our population’s widespread uptake in screen usage, which would by proxy reach children, parents are rightfully questioning whether these health guidelines are lagging behind the times.
To this query, Okely said that first and foremost, “it’s important for parents and educators to acknowledge that these guidelines are not meant in anyway for parents to feel guilty,” he says.
The guidelines are meant to be just that: Guidelines.
“What this information says is that if you’re asking questions, like what is a safe level of screen use, and how much should young children be engaging with their screens, then we can provide evidence-based recommendations that speaks to that. That’s what it’s designed to do,” Okely said.
LISTEN: Could your family live tech-free?We discuss the kids who never watch television. Post continues after audio.
So, what does the research say?
First up, beyond anecdotal evidence, why are screens so bad… actually?
The majority of evidence points to the fast transitions and bright, flashing lights that is detrimental to the developing brain, says Okely. This is evident in a lot of existing research, with other concerns including impact to the child’s development of social skills, communication, and on their language development.
National spokesperson of Optometry Australia, Luke Arundel, agrees with no screen time for toddlers. He says that a reduction in mobile devices is needed to reduce the risk of short-sightedness in children, calling it a “growing world-wide epidemic” that currently affects 30 per cent of the world’s population.
“The figure is expected to rise to 50 per cent by 2050 and researchers believe this is linked to the amount of time children are spending indoors which, in our digital age, very often means more time on screens.”