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Is screen time becoming a problem among our children?

In 2001, the American Academy of Paediatrics suggested that children under the age of two should have no exposure to screens whatsoever, and that those aged over two should have less than two hours per day.

Because the research was undertaken prior to the advent of many types of screens such as iPads and smart phones, the University of Western Australia recently questioned 2,620 children aged between eight and 16 about their use of technology.

The results were arguably quite concerning, with two-thirds of respondents stating they exceeded the recommended limits.

TV REMAINS MOST POPULAR 'SCREEN TYPE'

Some 90 per cent of those questioned said they had watched TV over the last week, while 59 per cent had used a laptop, 58 per cent had viewed an iPad/tablet device, and 57 per cent had been looking at a mobile phone screen.

SCREEN USE BECOMES MORE PREVALENT WITH AGE  

While under half (45 per cent) of respondents aged eight exceeded the suggested screen time limits, that increased to 80 per cent of those aged 14-15.

COMPUTER GAMES PREDOMINATELY PLAYED BY BOYS

The research showed that boys are more likely to play computer games than girls, but the fairer sex spends more time on social networking sites, using the web and watching TV and DVDs.

MORE ACCURATE SCREEN TIME LIMITS MAY BE NEEDED

Lead researcher Stephen Houghton said: "The introduction of mobile devices suggests the less than two hours per day recommendation may no longer be tenable given the surge in social media engagement and school derived screen use."

While it may be true that more accurate time limits are required, no parent wants their child to spend all their free time in front of a computer, iPad or TV.

LIMIT SCREEN TIME AT HOME

It is important for children to understand rules and boundaries and that applies to screen time. You should set limitations on the amount of time your children spend in front of the TV or computer and lead by example. If your children see you on Facebook all day, they're likely to follow suit.

TRACK IT

Sometimes, it's easy to underestimate the amount of time you spend doing activities. That's why it's good to spend a couple of days tracking how much time your family spends in front of the computer, TV or iPad, and how long they allocate to physical activities. If the former exceeds the latter, it's probably time to take action. 

NO TV IN BEDROOMS

It is inevitable that children will watch more TV if they have access to it in their bedrooms. You have less control over what they are watching and it is not conducive to sleep, so get rid of screens from their rooms.

Likewise, it makes sense to have a computer in a central location in the house where children can do their homework.

BAN ELECTRONIC DEVICES AT MEALTIMES

It's a great idea to eat together as a family and It makes sense to ensure this is a time when everyone turns off their phones and engages with one another.

DON'T USE SCREEN TIME AS A PUNISHMENT OR REWARD

If you offer your children more time in front of the TV, computer or iPad as a reward for good behaviour or a punishment for bad, you are suggesting it is a vital part of family life. Rather, you should try and recognise and encourage outdoor activities and healthy eating.

TAKE ACTION

The reason that children watch television and play on iPads and computers is because they are bored, and probably because you are tired. Whilst it is fine to allow them a set time for this type of activity, make sure you have a list of other things they can do that have nothing to do with screens.

Going for a bike ride, playing board games and walking the dog are all examples of activities you could encourage your child to do instead.

Trampolines are great for getting kids outside and active and you don't have to have a big space to set one up. 

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