From Screen to Green - Strategies for Cutting Down Screen Time

Family First

Tammy George

Parent and child discussing how to reduce screen time with effective strategies and promoting healthy habits.

Plenty of parents will tell you their biggest frustration in the twenty-first century is negotiating screen time with their children. We know that excessive screen time can be detrimental to children’s health and wellbeing, but few kids will agree and will try convincing you otherwise. Some screen time can have some benefits, but finding the right balance is key.  
The current generation of young ones under 18 has been the first generation to grow up with an electronic device stuck to their hand. Today’s adults would've spent their childhood leisure time very differently compared to their kids. They spent more time outside riding their bikes, walking to school, and playing on the streets. 

Devices can’t be blamed entirely for the behaviour change. Most backyards are smaller today, and parents worry about their children getting injured riding or walking on busier roads or travelling on their own to visit a friend. 

Discover how to cut down your children's screen time in this digital age and spend more time outside like you did growing up. 

Understanding the Detrimental Effects of Excessive Screen Time

Introduced in 2018, the guidelines for screen time for children stated the following:

  • No screen time for children younger than 2 years
  • No more than 1 hour per day for children aged 2 to 5 years
  • No more than 2 hours of sedentary recreational screen time per day for children and teenagers aged 5 to 17 years

However, most children spend more time in front of screens than the recommended guidelines. The Australian Institute of Family Studies research shows only 17 to 23% of preschoolers meet the guidelines, while the rest spend more time plugged into their devices. Only around 15% of all 5 to 12-year-olds meet screen time guidelines. Boys aged 10 to 14 spend their time in front of screens for gaming, computer use, and TV, while girls prefer social networking. 

Too much screen time in children under 5 years old can hurt them regarding their:

  • Weight
  • Motor and cognitive development
  • Social and psychological wellbeing

Too much screen time in 5 to 17-year-olds can hurt:

  • Weight and diet
  • Behavioural problems
  • Anxiety, hyperactivity, attention, self-esteem, and psychosocial health. 

Excessive screen time can lead to myopia (short-sightedness) in children. Excessive or early-age screen time can impact sensorimotor development and academic outcomes. If poor habits continue, today’s children will be at a greater risk of repetitive strain injuries to tissue and muscles of the cervical spine from the ‘tech neck’. Years of sedentary activity can cause diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke later in life.  

Some research has shown a link between excessive screen time and depression, while other research shows little evidence of mental health problems. However, there are thousands of cases around the world of children who have suffered mentally or physically from their screen time. It may be due to comparing themselves to influencers on social media, being bullied or blackmailed, repeating risky behaviour, disrupting sleep, or being targeted by online predators. Some tragic cases were highlighted at a US child safety hearing.

How to Reduce Screen Time: Practical Tips

Many parents are set to cut back on the time their kids spend on devices and make it a goal, but often they’re not successful. It takes commitment from parents to reduce the time their child spends looking at a screen. Most kids are reluctant to give up their highly-valued screen time, so it can take a parent’s time and effort to implement a few strategies and succeed.    

How to Reduce Screen Time for Kids: Nurturing Healthy Habits from a Young Age

It’s much easier for the whole family if you start limiting screen time from an early age rather than trying to cut back on a moody teen. If you set boundaries since your young child starts watching TV or using an iPad, they won’t know anything different and will be more likely to accept the limits you set later on. Setting boundaries that follow the guidelines will be easy to continue as your child ages.

Implementing Strategies for Limiting Screen Time in Daily Life

Use one or more of the following strategies to reduce your child’s screen time:

  • If your child is old enough, show them the Physical activity and exercise guidelines and make it a game to track how active each member of the family is, compared to the guidelines. 
  • During the weekend, when your child would normally spend time in front of a screen, come up with a different activity. Take turns choosing an activity you do as a family or spend 1:1 time with your child.  
  • Set screen-free times during the day, such as during homework, one hour before bed, and at mealtimes.
  • Spend time talking to your child when you have their full attention with no screen as a distraction.
  • Organise for your child to have a friend over for screen-free playtime.
  • Engage in a hobby or project together, such as craft, sewing, cooking, carpentry, or makeover of their bedroom.
  • Spend time walking, swimming, or exercising together.
  • Enrol your child in a sport or a second sport so they spend less time at home with the device as a temptation.
  • Buy a small reward for your child if they achieve their screen and physical activity targets for the week/month.

Family engaging in outdoor activity together, showcasing the importance of reducing screen time and fostering family bonding through physical activities.

Setting Realistic Goals and Tracking Progress

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Identify how many hours your child spends watching screens by tracking their use over a set period. Set a goal for cutting back on device and TV time. If your child is plugged into a device for well over the recommended time, cut back gradually rather than drastically reducing the time at once. Otherwise, the dramatic change can reduce the likelihood of success.   

After implementing the reduction strategies, track the screen time and look at your child's progress with them if they’re old enough and willing. If you have a day or week when there was a jump in screen time, don’t give up; be persistent and perhaps try another strategy until you find a formula that works for your child.   

How to Reduce Screen Time for Students: Balancing Academics and Technology

Daily screen time can add up quickly when using devices for study and leisure. 

Challenges Faced by Students in Managing Screen Time

In high school, a child may spend a few hours per day on their laptop, do homework on their computer, and when finished, spend more time gaming or scrolling on their phone. Schoolwork on devices can take students well over the recommended guidelines when adding leisure time. While it can be hard to reduce their in-class device time, they can reduce the time spent at home on their device. 

Effective Study Techniques That Minimise Dependence on Screen

Encourage your child to use screen-free study habits. Rather than typing study notes, write by hand into an exercise book for better retention. Spend time reading a physical book rather than reading an online text. Encourage regular breaks away from the screen to give their eyes a break and change their posture.    

Creating Healthy Habits for Academic Success

As school time spent on a device increases, try to promote decreasing the time spent using a device for leisure activities with your kids. Computer use is sedentary time, so helping them understand physical activities should also be a priority for them to shift to active times. 
In the later years of high school, when taking a break from study, encourage your child to move away from sitting on the lounge and scrolling on their phone. Instead, promote walking, running or riding around the block. The fresh air and exercise act as a reset button for the brain to come back to study feeling refreshed and energised.    

Encouraging Activities That Promote Physical and Mental Wellbeing

Sedentary children are likely to become sedentary adults, so if you can break the habit early, the habit of being physically active will most likely remain later as an adult. 

Be a good role model to your child by being physically active and reducing your own screen time, particularly in front of your child. Spend time doing activities that help with your physical and mental well-being, such as going for a walk or a bike ride. Encourage your child to spend time in nature by walking through the bush or beach to de-stress.Friends playing outdoors in the park, demonstrating how to reduce screen time and encourage outdoor activities for children's wellbeing.

Tips for Parental Monitoring and Engagement

You can enlist the help of technology to check on your child’s use of technology. When it’s time to switch off devices at night, there’s no need to unplug the Wi-Fi connection for everyone. Parental control software can do it for you and means you don’t have to watch the clock or start negotiating with your child about turning it off. Technology can do it all for you through Apple’s Screen Time, Google’s Family Link, and Microsoft’s Family Safety. Some gaming and chat apps have built-in parental control features too.

Phone use can add up quickly. Settings on a smartphone allow turning off the phone at night so you and your children can get a good night’s sleep rather than sneaking the phone into bed. Your internet service provider may also have a feature that disconnects devices from the network if needed. 

Cultivating Mindfulness and Awareness to Overcome Phone Addiction

Without controls around how much a child can use their phone, these habits can quickly turn into phone addiction. Monitor how much your child is on their phone, but most importantly, encourage them to use their phone mindfully. Help them stop and think if they really need to check the phone - again. Moreover, keeping it silent and not using it to fill in time when you could be engaging with others are healthy practices to advocate for. 

Embracing a Balanced Lifestyle Beyond the Screen

Before getting granular on counting the minutes allowed for screen time and making the whole scenario a pain to deal with, aim at shifting the focus from screens to the beauty of real-life connections and outdoor adventures. 

Be a good role model for your child. Put your phone away when you return home from work and engage with your family. Take control of your and your child’s digital habits today, and experience improved wellbeing by embracing the joys of offline activities and meaningful human interactions.

Extensive time spent looking at devices can significantly impact your wellbeing as well as your children's wellbeing and the rest of the family. With HIF's Healthy Lifestyle Cover, you can amplify your journey towards wellbeing by accessing benefits for weight loss programs, gym memberships, yoga, pilates, and more. Take charge of your health today and leverage these resources to cultivate a balanced lifestyle that prioritises physical activity and mental wellness.

Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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