It may come as a surprise to hear that 8- to 19-year-olds in Australia are spending over a day and a half (38 hours) per week accessing screen time using computers, mobile devices, and television. Australian children ranked second-place in the Child Online Safety Index (COSI), a real-time measure on children’s online safety status. Despite this, Aussie kids are still exposed to online risks, cyberbullying, and excessive screen time.
Many parents ask themselves, ‘what is the right amount of screen time for kids?’ There is no actual number, according to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, a government office that promotes online safety education for Australian young people, parents, and educators. According to them, the amount of screen time children should have depended on a range of factors like the child’s age and maturity, the type of content they’re consuming, learning activities, and the family routine. The needs of each child and their family are different so it is difficult to give an exact number of screen time limits each day.
Too much screen time can have negative impacts on children, including sleep deprivation, lack of interest in social activities, or poor self-regulation. Cyberbullying can also be a serious issue. Children should still be able to access the internet, but they should learn how to know when it’s time to put down their phones or tablets. Dr Michael Rich of the Centre on Media and Child Health said that when it comes to kids’ screen time: “the goal is not abstinence, but self-regulation.”
To ensure that the children in your family will have a safe experience while doing their online activities, ensure that you keep these best practices in mind:
- Talk to your children about how the internet helps them learn and communicate. Let them know that screen time is essential for learning, and a fun way to pass the time but at the same time, let them understand that constant access is not okay. Together, you could come up with some boundaries around screen time.
- Communicate with your children in regards to what they are doing online. Regularly make time to talk to your children about what they are doing on the internet. You can make it a safe space by asking about what they are enjoying and reassuring them that they can also share negative experiences with you as well. This will help them share any issues they’re experiencing online such as cyberbullying, or if a stranger suddenly befriends them. If necessary, you can get help for them through a counselling or online support service found here.
- Familiarise yourself with your children’s online interests. To understand their interests, you have to know what it is that they’re using, and what is popular with the youth such as TikTok or Instagram. Once you learn the ropes, you can help them navigate it safely.
- Create screen-free times in your house. Set a rule that no one should use their device when it’s time for dinner, and this goes the same for both the kids and adults.
- Schedule their time online and use parental controls. Technologies that help you manage screen time can be useful, especially if the child is not old enough to self-regulate their screen time. Trend Micro Home Network Security (HNS) has parental controls that can keep your kids safe online wherever they go. In addition to protecting your home network from security risks and hacks, HNS also provides parental controls that can block inappropriate websites; manages time limits; and an app detection that alerts you if the children are using potentially inappropriate apps.
Always keep these best practices in mind to secure your family’s safety online. In case of online scams and other cyber-related crimes, report them to Scamwatch.