More than half of Australian children are glued to digital screens longer than national guidelines recommend, but experts warn the time limits are out of date and need to be changed.
Two hours is the maximum daily limit set out in the Department of Health’s screen time guidelines for five- to 17-year-olds.
However, an online poll of 18,000 children by ABC children’s program Behind the News found that 56 per cent of respondents exceed that two-hour daily limit.
The results are not surprising, according to Sydney child technology expert Dr Joanne Orlando who says the limits, based on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ settings, are out of date in the digital age.
“The problem is, the guidelines were developed in the 1990s so they’re pretty old, and they were developed in response to kids watching TV, in particular violent stuff,” she told AAP.
“But the ways kids interact with screens now is very different … it’s much more interactive and creative and there are many more things they can do.”
The advent of tablets, smartphones and other devices had left many parents in the dark, she said.
“It makes us all feel bad because the guidelines aren’t up to date and the kids are spending all this time on technology and the parents and educators are just not sure what to think or what to do.”
The American group announced in 2015 it would review its guidelines on technology use for children.
Dr Orlando expects those screen-time limits to be lengthened.
“It’s very unrealistic for children up to 18 years to only spend two hours per day on screens, particularly when school work obliges them to do that or more,” she said.
However, parents should still keep an eye out for addiction, with about 15 per cent of the respondents in the Behind the News survey reporting they couldn’t go without technology for even one day.
“If they’re spending most of the time at home using their screen, that’s too much, it’s the main activity,” Dr Orlando said.
She recommends parents determine their children’s screen time limits based on the quality of the activity and the level of stimulation their children are getting.
The survey found children are using tablets more than computers and phones, and boys are more screen dependant than girls.
When they’re plugged in, children are playing games, watching movies and online videos, going on social media and doing homework.
HOW MANY HOURS EACH DAY
* 8yrs: 4.2 hours
* 9yrs: 3.4
* 11 yrs: 3.6
* 12 yrs: 3.9
* 13 yrs: 4.7
* 14 yrs: 5.4
* 15 yrs: 6
* 16 yrs or more: 7.4
MOST POPULAR DEVICES
* Tablet: 30pct
* Computer: 22pct
* TV: 20pct
* Phone: 16pct
* Gaming console: 13pct
(Source: Behind the News, ABC TV)