How much screen time is too much?

Central Leader - - NEWS - By DANIELLE STREET

Are chil­dren spend­ing too much time look­ing at screens?

One Auck­land cou­ple thinks so. They say chil­dren who are con­stantly con­nected to tele­vi­sions, mo­bile phones and tablets might be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ad­verse ef­fects we are not yet aware of.

Par­ents Jel Legg and Julie Crean have formed the Screen Free Project to raise aware­ness of the in­flux of tech­nol­ogy that sur­rounds chil­dren.

‘‘The in­crease of very young people us­ing tablets is go­ing through the roof and we don’t know what that is go­ing to mean in the next 10 years,’’ Mr Legg says.

They have re­stricted tech­nol­ogy time for their own teenagers and say it has been a cat­a­lyst for a more com­mu­nica­tive house­hold.

‘‘We aren’t say­ing no to screen time, but we are say­ing give kids a chance to get out in the fresh air, run around and build tree huts,’’ Ms Crean says.

The Screen Free Project’s aim is to ig­nite dis­cus­sion about the ben­e­fits and pit­falls of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy for young dig­i­tal na­tives.

‘‘We wanted to form a net­work that would have a big­ger voice and get some real ac­tion go­ing, rather than be­ing a splash in the pond,’’ Mr Legg says.

‘‘We can high­light the prob­lems all day long, but Screen Free Project is about so­lu­tions.’’

The project wel­comes par­ents look­ing for ways to get their chil­dren into phys­i­cal play. It is also reach­ing out to aca­demics and or­gan­i­sa­tions who can con­trib­ute to the con­ver­sa­tion.

So far the New Zealand Play­cen­tre Fed­er­a­tion and For­est & Bird are on board with the idea.

Also in the mix is Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy se­nior lec­turer in psy­chol­ogy Erik Land­huis, who says re­search is barely keep­ing up with the ev­er­chang­ing tech­nol­ogy.

‘‘With new me­dia there is more po­ten­tial for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses but the re­al­ity is that we just don’t know what the ef­fects are – pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive,’’ he says.

A study re­leased last year by the Med­i­cal Re­search In­sti­tute of New Zealand found that more than a third of New Zealand’s youth spend about five hours a day watch­ing tele­vi­sion, which is linked to our grow­ing rate of child­hood obe­sity.

The Amer­i­can Pe­di­atric As­so­ci­a­tion stud­ies rec­om­mends only two hours of tele­vi­sion a day for chil­dren aged over 2.

But this fig­ure is no longer achiev­able be­cause of the sat­u­ra­tion of tech­nol­ogy such as tablets and com­put­ers in class­rooms, Dr Land­huis says.

‘‘It be­comes dif­fi­cult for par­ents who are try­ing to do their best and say ‘no screen time’ – but they are every­where.’’

Par­ents worry their chil­dren will be left be­hind if they don’t keep up with the lat­est gad­gets but Dr Land­huis says this con­cern should take a back seat to let­ting chil­dren have hands-on learn­ing.

‘‘Kids need to learn to be kids. They need to ex­pe­ri­ence the world in per­son, not through a screen.’’

He sug­gests par­ents should min­imise screen time for chil­dren un­til more is known about the long-term ef­fects.

Find­ing al­ter­na­tives: Par­ents Jel Legg and Julie Crean have started the Screen Free Project.

Erik Land­huis

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