How much screen time is too much?
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.