Guidelines for handling screen time on touch screens

Like it or not, the amount of touch screen devices and applications designed for children is expanding rapidly and the age at which children can start using it is getting lower and lower.
For some parents, the best solution is complete avoidance and there are advocacy groups devoted completely to this. However, another line of thinking is that parents need to be thinking beyond simply avoiding screen time to managing these new devices in a more responsible way. There is a real need for this, studies have shown that although overall media use has decreased since 2011, time spent on a mobile device has increased and access to mobile devices has increased from 50 to 75%.  App store downloads show that app downloads for children have increased since 2011, with the biggest growth in apps designed for toddlers.
This new technology is also being used in a different way, with studies indicating that many parents pass their own device to their child in order to entertain them for short periods of time in what is known as the 'pass back effect'. This is usually unplanned and impulsive but plays a significant role in the formation of screen time.
This creates a difficult new responsibility for parents on what is a suitable digital content for the children and how to allow access to this information. Unfortunately, the majority of information is lagging behind improvement in technology. Evidence based guidelines are mostly focused on television or computer usage which is passive, confining and of long duration. No guidelines focus on touch screen products which can be used in a variety of locations, are more active and can be used for very short periods of time.
The American Association for Pediatrics (AAP) has raised the issue of their being positive aspects of pro-social media such as learning, teaching empathy, tolerance and other interpersonal skills however these are not included in screen time guidelines. Other possible positive aspects of screen time may be playing, being creative and being active in a mental or physical way. Ensuring high quality content consumption is one way to maximise these benefits.
Unfortunately many parents are unfamiliar with the online content being used their children and use little control in managing the media use. This may be accentuated by issues of shame or guilt over their child's media use.
Unfortunately, children do not have the ability to handle the media content alone and for this reason it is suggested that screen time be experienced together.

Guidelines for managing your child's device use

  • Recognise the media usage habits of your own family and then attempt to optimise it. For example, if you frequently use devices in a passback way, prior downloading of a variety of appropriate and enriching media will be most beneficial. 
  • Moderate and maintain your child's digital media library.
  • Increase your own knowledge: information on apps can be found on review-sites.
  • Consider that you may have to pay to have the best quality content. Free apps are often either poor quality, poorly implemented or have in-app purchasing options. 
  • Retain responsibility for your child's media content. Children do not have the ability to accurately judge what is a good quality product. Determine what sort of media content makes her happy, scared or excited.
  • Monitor your child's reactions to ensure they are understanding the content and that it is not inspiring extreme emotions.
  • Find apps that inspire both you and your child and encourage creativity. This is the first step to co-engaging in media.
  • Engage in media jointly as a family - this includes viewing, playing, searching, reading, contributing and creating
  • Talk about media content this assists your child is making sense of a particular situation and provides support for understanding future situations
  • Encourage your child to use their imagination to expand on stories or games.
  • Reconsider using media as a discipline method, it may put too much pressure on media usage.


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