Its a big grey area for parents when trying to a create positive digital environment as there is not much information available, which is disappointing as this is a pretty crucial area. Doing the ground work early in setting digital boundaries will reap its rewards as the children get older.
The guides available in Australia offer limited medical or health reasons why children should have screen time limited. International screen use guides are often more detailed.
To help I have done some research and found some guidelines on how much time children should spend in front of a digital device. The guidelines given will require parent intervention eg. Monitoring your children’s use. This can, at times, be demanding but the benefits in helping your children avoid addiction or internet trauma in the long run far outweigh this extra work.
I would certainly recommend the guidelines from Net addiction. They have the most detailed explanation as to why you should limit your childs exposure to a digital device. Plus they have a variety of age ranges which the other sites do not cover. This is really important as a 5 year old child have vastly different needs to a 17 year old adolescent. Keep this in mind when you complete any research.
The full document from Net Addiction can be downloaded from their website Netaddiction. Its is by far the most detailed I have found on the internet and one I would certainly follow if I believed my child or family member was suffering from internet addiction.
The Australian sites researched: Australian Parent council, Queensland Gov, and raisingchildren.net.au. They offer some good advice but lack the reasoning offered by net addiction. They also group ages from 5 to 17 which, from my research is not recommended as the age range is far to wide.
Below is quick guide to age ranges and time online. We also have these available for download from this site
Birth-3 years Rules: Never/Nowhere
No technology, this includes smartphones, computers, and televisions. If you are using a smartphone or tablet as an entertainment device to keep your child quiet don’t. We re social creatures and children need to develop social connections to their family not a smartphone. Get them active, spend time with your child and that means parents should also put away their devices and connect with their children.
Net addiction focuses on developing other sensory-motor skills like playing with physical toys, reading skills, and relationships with other children. This is certainly an area most Australian advice is aimed but I feel they stop to soon at 2 years old and don’t point out the lack of social connection when online, which can have a huge negative impact on your child further down the line
3-6 years Rules: One Hour a Day
Net addiction splits up the ages into smaller ranges and at this point advising careful introduction to technology under careful parental supervision. They reference the dangers of using technology as a baby sitter or a reward for good behaviour. This can actually lead to children becoming disruptive as they know if they stop they will get the reward.
6-9 years Rules: Supervised Use
This age range is not covered by Australian sites and instead inlcuded in the range from 5 to 17. There is no way a 5 year old should be in the same category as 17 year old. Think very carefully about the age you allow your child to increase their technology use and what devices they will be allowed to use.
Children need to balance technology with social and physical behaviour. They also need their use to be monitored. Family games such as the Wii are great as it helps to bond the family. Keep digital device use in the family area where you can see them. Don’t allow them to surf the internet unmonitored on your computer. Keep to 2 hours of screen time per day under close parental supervision.
9-12 Years Rules: Responsible Use
Keep the rule of no more than 2 hours of screen time a day, including family videogame time. Do not allow access to tech devices in private areas of the home, and no access to online gaming (especially any role-playing games).
At this age, children need to be mentally and physically stimulated through reading, taking nature walks, riding bikes, getting involved in school and sport activities, making friends at school, and spending time with family.
Children learn from their environment if you practice poor digital habits they will take those onboard. Keep technology away from meal times and before bedtime. Setting tech free times so you can all engage in conversation is so important.
Avoid the demand for your child to have social media account and that includes using yours or one you have created for them to chat to their friends. Children this age are not ready for the emotional turmoil of social media. Many High Schools see a rise in online bulling via social media around the ages of 11 to 13.
12-18 years Rules: Independence
Parents can find this age range very challenging as most of the arguments and disobedience happen in this age range. If you have followed through with earlier rules this should make life a little easier. Keep in mind that parents who have not limited use of digital devices earlier may find even more resistance.
If you are struggling build a support network speak to your school and make sure teachers are aware of your concerns. Chat to other parents, ask for help and make them aware that you wish to limit your child’s access to digital devices. Keep in mind that some of the parents you talk to may be going through the same issues.
Continue to keep technology in family areas letting adolescents spend hours in their bedroom gaming is not healthy. Discuss, rather than demand and give them the opportunity to make positive choices when using technology. They may not always get it right but being there to support them is very important (although they may not show it!).
The two hour rule as recommended by Australian websites is almost unworkable as they will very likely have their own smartphone by now. If your school operates BYOD they will be using a digital device most lessons so it will be impossible to keep to the 2 hour rule. Add to that the prospect of studying ATAR subjects for university entry that may require 2 or more hours work at home per day you can see its just not feasible.
But now is really the time to support your children with their new found freedoms rather than restrict. Yes, its still important to ensure you have digital free times for conversation and that family rules for digital devices are applied to all including parents. If a parent disregards the rule of no digital devices at meal times, then you can expect, at some point, a confrontation from your children who wish to do the same.
Keep to the rules and lead by example.
Links to reference sites