Screen time: how much is too much?

In many schools around the country, kids and teachers are staring at laptops and tablets for six hours a day rather than the traditional school textbook. When they get home, they can spend up to the same amount of time on the same devices for leisure.

While the introduction of computers into classrooms has streamlined the communication process, enhanced collaborative learning and student engagement, at what point does screen time begin to impact negatively on our health?

According to Australian Health Department guidelines and a study released by BMC Public Health, any more than two hours a day can impact on health.

Excessive screen time has been shown to lead to structural and functional changes to the brain’s emotional, processing, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control.

“Paediatric recommendations to limit children’s and adolescents’ screen based media use (SBMU) to less than two hours per day appear to have gone unheeded,” the BMC report stated.

“Given the associated adverse physical and mental health outcomes of SBMU it is understandable that concern is growing worldwide.”

The Raising Children website – which offers up-to-date research-based material on more than 800 child-related topics – says children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours while children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day,

As for children under two, they shouldn’t even be looking at a computer screen.

With many hours of screen time being the norm in many schools and homes, is there any going back? More specifically, what real impact is research like this likely to have in Australia?

Under the Taiwanese government’s Child and Youth Welfare and Protection Act, fines are applicable for parents of children under the age of 18 who develop a mental or physical illness as a result of using electronic devices for an extended period of time.

While it is difficult to imagine Australia adopting such a law, discussion amongst technology leaders and educators around how to limit screen time to a healthy level is alive and well.

At last week’s EduTech conference in Brisbane, international keynote speaker Dan Haessler asked a panel of educators whether there was a danger that kids are in front of the screen too much.

Michael Batternally, principal of Melba Copland Secondary School in ACT, said while he was concerned that many children don’t have a balance of physical activity and screen-time, teachers and parents can harness the collaborative power of the Internet to share research and encourage better health and wellbeing.

“I would encourage schools to leverage ICT to bring about a greater knowledge of physical activity and good health.

“That could be extraordinarily powerful,” Batternally said.