[00:00:00 – 00:01:16]Kids nowadays are more exposed to lots of screen time and parents are using this technology to effortlessly help in getting kids preoccupied, however this can result into massive meltdowns.
Reporter:What do you think about the modern day relationship between children and technology?
Dr. Kimberley: I often see kids using – well not often – but like, it’s becoming more regular that you see kids even as young as 2 using like, iPads, either in restaurants or while their mum’s are waiting in line, you know, in the waiting room at our clinics as well. Kids are getting exposed more and more to screen time obviously and parents are using it as a way to keep the kids preoccupied. And, I think that’s great, except that there are usually some massive meltdowns involved – that I’m sure parents can relate to. As soon as they need to like pack up and go, and take the iPad away, these meltdowns are worse than your average tantrums. Because there is quite an addiction involved, you know, when it comes to the bright light, then in the middle of the game where you have to go through those stages to get to the next level again. So I think for parents, the tantrums can be more stressful because they last longer and are a whole lot louder. My advice would be try to avoid giving screens to kids under the age 5 because we can easily keep them entertained if we give them a book, and then you don’t have the meltdowns afterwards. Or even just a fiddle toy would do. There’re so many other options to avoid screen time that you can also carry in your handbag.
[00:01:17-00:02:37] This technology is damaging to the cognitive and social development of these kids thus giving them limited interest to interact with other kids or adults.
Reporter: In terms of long-term development, is it detrimental to their cognitive and social development?
Dr. Kimberley: I think so. What I see, even in 15 years olds who have been doing a lot of gaming for long periods of time, is that they have really narrow group of friends with narrow interests. So they might have one close friend that they do lots of “gaming” with on the weekends (I’m probably not using the right lingo). But, if it doesn’t have a screen and they have to go or something, like if it’s someone’s birthday, then it’s just so hard for them to be there. It just feels more boring than it would have if they didn’t have such narrow interests because their social skills have been depleted and they haven’t been practicing on weekends, or having more conversations with people of different ages about different topics, because of their narrow interests. So we do see fifteen year-olds to want to broaden their interests, but that can be quite a challenge because they have to actually do stuff that they don’t enjoy to start with, the enjoyment will grow when they develop new network of friends and they get more physically be able to run, jump or climb, so that can get back to a normal balanced lifestyle.
[00:02:38 – 00:04:18]Kids these days have serious addiction to technology and it is making them more aggressive.
Reporter: So you think that addiction to technology is real and it’s happening at the moment?
Dr. Kimberley: Yeah, definitely. I saw a really good documentary but I wasn’t able to find it since I watched it. It was based on a Chinese rehab program for adolescent boys that have screen addictions. These are boys that have been gaming all through the night, have dropped out of school and have been spending like, 22 hours a day on screen. Some of them doing things like peeing in a bucket, wearing adult nappies so they didn’t have to come away from the screen. They serious wanting to be the best in world at whatever they were doing. In that documentary they were in full withdrawal when they have no access to a screen, and two of them in that period of time, like in that one month program, they broke out and they went straight to an internet cafe and started playing, trying to catch up after being away from it so long. Yes I do see it as a serious addiction. You want to watch it, because they’re some really lovely kids that we worked with in that middle range, from 10-12 years old. Just lovely kids that are well educated. They have supportive families, but are becoming more aggressive, throwing huge rocks through the sliding glass doors trying to get back inside once mum gives up because of too much screen time on a Saturday morning. Or breaking into a filing cabinet trying to get the laptop, fully busting the lock, doing damage.
[00:04:19 – 00:04:27]Kids who have attachment to technology are showing aggressive behaviours thus causing damage.
Reporter: In terms of behavioural issues, there is obviously the attachment to technology but you are saying there’s aggression as well?
Dr. Kimberley: Yes definitely.
[00:04:28 – 00:05:06]Technology is not the main cause of decreasing attention span of children, there are also other factors to consider.
Reporter: I’ve read a study that the attention spans of children are decreasing because of technology. Do you find that this is true?
Dr. Kimberley: It could be hard to pinpoint that as a cause and effect because there are just kids with short attention spans, with or without technology. But I think teachers are using more technology in the classroom and then, I suppose when they turn the screens off, they have to be, you know – I mean it’s great to watch a YouTube video of something and then to have the teacher try explain every word, but it doesn’t have such an impact. I imagine the kids would become more accustomed to seeing things move and hearing different voices and different scenes. It’s hard to compete with.
[00:05:07 – 00:05:50]There are pros and cons in using technology in teaching. There are games that are educational that can help kids with spelling, reading, and mathematics.
Reporter: Do you think that technology should be used in school for children in reception like iPads and that kind of thing?
Dr. Kimberley: I know some school mums are sometimes annoyed at teachers that are giving little girls, like kindergarten/year 1/year 2, a lot of time on screens because that is something that they have tried to win as off time and only use it on weekends or something like that. And when they drop in to do reading at school and some kids spend the whole hour on screen and they feel that is not teaching. So, I think you get mixed reactions. Or the kids might love doing those educational games there are really some good ones out there that can really help children with spelling words, reading, mathematics. So there are pros and cons.
[00:05:51 – 00:06:30]Technology is beneficial for children but you have to managed the use of it.
Reporter: So do you think overall the increase use in technology is beneficial to children or detrimental?
Dr. Kimberley: If it’s managed, then beneficial, totally. I think it’s a great reward for kids to get all their homework done, and then have some time to do something they really enjoy. And to use it as a reward and use it in limited periods of time so that they don’t develop that addiction. I think they get used to logging off after 5 t0 10 minutes – it not such a big drama, but if it’s been 4 to 5 hours, thats a whole waste of the weekend I think. And it’s not the right parenting in my opinion. Reporter: Yes, fair enough.
[00:06:31 – 00:06:57]Children in general should only be allowed to have screen time for 1 hour every day.
Reporter: One last question – so how long should children in general be spending on screen everyday?
Dr. Kimberley: Research says maximum of 2 hours but for me that feels like high school age when they have laptops and homework to do online and things like that. So I think two hours for those kids who have to do homework online. But for other ones, maybe two hours on weekends and one hour every day.
It seems in today’s world children are born ‘digital’. From young toddlers to teens, children appear to have a knack of being able to navigate the world of technology, using a range of gadgets for enjoyment, social connection, education, communication and convenience. Technology is the vehicle through which children are taken on missions, through fantastical virtual landscapes, into characters and to their friends and provides children with much reward and enjoyment. Classrooms are now filled with technology from computers to interactive whiteboards and families are now inviting a range of technologies into their homes.
Along with the multitude of benefits technology brings, there has been widening concern over the time children spend with technology and the type of interactions children are having through technology.
Here is an Interview we completed regarding this top:
The Australian Communications and Media Authority reported that in 2007, children were spending on average close to five hours a day with technology, a figure which has likely increased with the proliferation of media-enabled smart phones and other electronic devices (ACAMA). In fact, in April 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that nearly a third of all 5-14 year old children had their own mobile phones. With the increased sedentary time children are spending with technology and reduced time in outdoor play, links are being drawn between overuse of technology and a delay in children’s achievement of sensory and motor milestones (Rowan, 2010) and reduced academic performance (Gentile, 2012). Certainly, parents have been commenting on the struggles they have in steering their children outdoors for playtime and the friction caused when children are asked to leave technology for homework time.
The types of interactions children are having with technology is also of concern. Australian research mirrors that of the United States, in which significant increases in the popularity of electronic gaming, particularly among boys, has been observed (ACAMA). Exposure to violent content during gaming has been correlated with aggression and desensitization to violence (Gentile, 2012), which is of particular concern, given the evidence that gaming can be very addictive (ABC, 2012). There appears to be a great interest among children in combat-focused games, which is starting to filter into playground play with their peers.
How can I tell if my child is addicted to technology?
The Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing Guidelines suggest that children younger than 2 years should not spend any time watching TV or using other electronic media such as DVD’s, electronic games or computers. Children between the ages of 2-5 years should be limited to less than one hour a day on these activities and children 5 years and older should be limited to 2 hours or less on these activities
Some key signs that may indicate that your child is spending too much time with technology are:
your child may be spending large amounts of time consumed and preoccupied with technology, which may impact on his/her time to complete other daily tasks.
your child may withdraw from previously enjoyed activities such as playing with their siblings and playing outside.
your child may withdraw from family and friends
your child may be saying things like “I’m bored” or “lost” without technology.
your child may be becoming very tired and irritable as a consequence of staying up late or waking through the night or early morning to use technology.
your child may request or demand technology during mealtimes.
your child may be spending time surfing the internet with a lack of purpose
your child may become angry or distressed when limits to technology use are attempted.
your child’s technology use may be impacting negatively on their grades and school work.
your child may be reporting an increased preference with socialising online.
your child may engage in unsafe technology use, for example, making friends with strangers.
Problems and suggested strategies for with technology
Research suggests that even 2 hours spent a day on non-homework use of technology can negatively impact on children’s overall development (King et al., 2012). Some common problems are:
A) Falling behind on social, emotional and physical milestones:
Children need to be active, have their senses stimulated and have opportunities for social connection to develop both physically and psychologically. Children who are spending more and more time on technology, for example, have been observed to be failing to meet their motor milestones (King et al., 2012). A recent study, including Australian children, demonstrated that more children between the ages of 2-5 years could play games on a computer than complete age appropriate tasks such as tie their shoelaces and ride their bike (SMH).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set a good example. Set your own limits and demonstrate this to your child. For example, a family rule may be no phones or technology at the dinner table for any family member.
Skill up your child. Help your child develop coping skills for managing technology and non-technology time. For example:
Explore their talents and interests and foster these
Help your child develop problem solving skills and practice using these, particularly in times when your child is feeling at a loose end without technology
Develop your child’s physical capabilities, such as helping them with their fine and gross motor skills.
Develop your child’s communication skills, demonstrate conversation, friendship, conflict-resolution skills and practice these and listen to your child when they are communicating with you
Be proactive in helping your child develop friendships through out of school activities, play dates and developing their interests
Develop some new family traditions. Have times when the family disconnects with technology and reconnects as a family unit. Involve your children in brainstorming activities they might like to do as a family that don’t involve technology and make a point of doing them regularly.
Challenge your own thoughts. Many of our own thoughts and perceptions can get in the way of helping our children limit their technology use. For example, believing the outside play is unsafe or that technology is good to help your child be quiet, can limit your ability to maintain healthy boundaries for your child’s technology use.
Schedule some downtime time. Make sure your child has some scheduled time in their week to be unscheduled, unstructured and free from technology, homework and planned activities. Help your child play in the garden, at the park or the beach, for example, without the distractions of technology. Invite your child’s friends along to foster friendships and social skills. Interact with your child and demonstrate how to make your own fun and play in a free and unstructured way.
b) Experiencing high stress levels and exposure to violence
Children who overuse technology appear to experience physiological changes which mimic those seen in high stress states, such as high heart rates, fast paced breathing and hyperacute hearing and vision (Rowan, 2010). Additionally, playing violent virtual games has been linked to increased aggression and reduced empathy-skills among children and suggests these games may well desensitise children to violence (Rowan, 2010).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set some relaxation time. Explore the things your child finds relaxing that do not involve technology and make time to regularly engage in these activities.
Be selective. Determine what is appropriate and not appropriate for your child to play and keep the boundaries clear. If your child has played a game that is violent, talk through it with your child, discussing things like what is real and fantasy and how your child might view the game.
c) Falling behind at school
The overuse of technology has been found to impact negatively on children’s academic performance (Farber et al., 2012; Gentile, 2012). Children typically find it difficult to self-regulate their technology use, which can mean that daily tasks such as homework and reading are not completed or not given the time needed.
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set clear limits and boundaries. Negotiate with your child on how much time they can spend with technology daily and stick to it. Help your child choose how to use technology and how to plan for non-technology time. Avoid using technology as a reward and involve older children in these negotiations.
Monitor computer-based tasks. Be aware of the school-based tasks your child is completing on the computer and help them remain on task and focused.
Set time to read and help your child with their homework. Talk to the school if there are difficulties completing the homework and take an interest in school-based tasks at home.
d) Other psychosocial difficulties such as sleep difficulties.
The overuse of technology has also been associated with sleep difficulties and increased anxiety, depression and isolation in some cases, particularly when children are exposed to personal safety risks such as cyberbullying and sexting (Farber et al., 2012).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Educate yourself. Know what technology your child is using and what they are doing on that technology. Be your child’s friend on facebook, look at their Tumblr account, know the websites and games they seek. Most devices have parental controls and keep technology use in public areas in your house.
Educate your child. Help your child know how to safely navigate technology, know the risks and how to identify them and know the supports they can seek if things go awry. Have some simple rules such as no sending of videos or photos without permission, no ‘friending’ people that you haven’t met.
Establish clear bedtime routines and limits. Shift technology use to daylight hours and out of the bedroom. Research suggests that children who use a computer before bedtime take longer to fall asleep, have a poorer quality sleep and are more distractible and fatigued during the day (King et al., 2012). Have a device charging station in a public space in your house for all family members to plug into during the night.
Seek help. Seek professional help if you identify a personal safety risk involving your child or if your child is experiencing symptoms consistent with a mental health disorder.
King, D., Delfabbro, P., Griffiths, M. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioural Approaches to Outpatient Treatment of Internet Addiction in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (11), 1185-1195.
Farber, B., Shafron, G., Hamadani, J., Wald, E. & Nitzburg, G. (2012). Children, Technology, Problems, and Preferences. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (11), 1225-1229.
Rowan, C. (2010). Unplug-Don’t Drug: A Critical Look at the Influence of Technology on Child Behaviour With an Alternative Way of Responding Other Than Evaluation and Drugging. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 12 (1), 60-68.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (June 2010): Trends in media use by children and young people. Insights from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M2 2009 (USA), and results from the ACMA’s Media and communications in Australian families 2007
Many parents, educators, and mental health professionals are concerned about the amount of time children are spending watching TV or “plugged in” to video games, computers and online activities.
According to recent studies, young children under the age of 2 spend an average of 2 hours per day watching TV or other screen media (like computers), while children over the age of 8 spend around 7 hours per day in front of screens (including texting on mobile phones).
What are the risks of too much screen time?
While kids have a lot of fun using screen media, it can also have negative effects on their healthy development. Some of the risks associated with excessive TV and computer use during childhood include:
attention difficulties: The rapid sequence of images and information that characterizes screen media inhibits the brain’s ability to develop sustained focus.
delayed language and limited vocabularies: While watching screen media the part of the brain that is responsible for language acquisition becomes passive, making it difficult for babies to learn words and syntax.
more aggressive and violent play behaviour: Children may become desensitized to the consequences of aggressive behavior after seeing it presented as benign or humorous on TV or online.
obesity: Sitting in front of the computer or TV means less time spent on active play, which reduces the likelihood of childhood obesity.
How much screen time is OK?
Most experts and recent research agree that children under 2 should not use screen media. The activity can interfere with playing, exploring, and interacting with others, all of which are crucial to physical and social development in the first 2 years of life. Children under 8 should use screen media for no more than 1-2 hours per day.
How can we cut back our family’s screen time?
It can be a real challenge to cut back on screen media use at home, especially as adults are excessive users as well.
The best way to encourage your children to cut back on using the TV, computers, and mobile phones is to model healthy behaviour yourself. Set a limit on screen time at home — say, 2 hours per day in the evenings, broken up into 30-minute chunks. It’s also a good idea to provide fun alternative activities to reduce the likelihood of boredom.
Free play, reading, and in-person conversations are activities that promote healthy brain development in children — encourage activities that include these options.
Some other tips to cut back on screen time at home:
Unplug and cover up. When you’re not using computers or the TV, unplug them, or stash them in a cabinet where you can’t see them.
Schedule. Limit use of screen media to at least 2 hours before your child’s bedtime. Using a computer or watching TV close to bedtime can interfere with your child’s sleep cycles, and make it difficult for them to doze off.
Relocate. Designate a “computer zone” for your family that is in a well-trafficked space, like the living room, so that users feel less absorbed while they’re using them.
Communicate. Tell your child’s babysitter and her friends’ parents that you are trying to cut back on screen time, so that your child isn’t gorging on screen media when you’re not around.
Converse. Watch TV with your child during designated screen media time, and ask them questions about the programming throughout. This will stimulate the language centres of your child’s brain, which are less active while watching TV.
Reconsider. Try not to offer TV, computer, or mobile phone use as a reward for good behaviour, or prohibit use as punishment. This can heighten a child’s interest in screen media.
We offer a range of services, workshops and individualized consultations to support children experience screen addiction. Please contact us for more information.
Family Education Network (2010). Watch TV Along with Your Child. Retrieved from http://life.familyeducation.com/television/toddler/53399.html?detoured=1
Graham, Judith. “Children, Television and Screen Time.” University of Maine (2011). Retrieved from http://umaine.edu/publications/4100e/
Ravichandran, P. & deBravo, B.F., (June, 2010). Young Children and Screen Time (Television, DVDs, Computer). National Research Center for Women and Families.
Pediatrics, A. A. o. (2011). Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 years. American Academy of Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-1753, 8.
Kimberley O’Brien, our principal Child Psychologist, was invited to attend to the ‘Hot Seat’ – burning issues & bid Ideas as part of the ABC-TV’s program hosted by the UNSW.
What it is about:
Modern technology is rearranging the possibilities for families and relationships. We can fertilise eggs in-vitro and buy sperm over the internet. People can have sex without any danger of having babies, and have babies without having sex.
Image of a family and children as part of a flyer promoting an event on mother families
Families can have a mum and dad, or one or the other, or two mums, or two dads. We ask what the “natural” family looks like, and how that should affect the family arrangements we recognise. We also ask what happens when a whole generation starts having children in non-traditional family units. How will the next generation of children turn out? What does it mean for the future of our society and our species.
Professor Robert Brooks, UNSW evolutionary biologist and author of Sex Genes and Rock ‘n Roll. Jane McCredie, writer, journalist, publisher, author of Making Girls and Boys, Inside the Science of Sex. Mrs Babette Francis, mother, writer and Endeavor Forum lobbyist. Dr Kimberley O’Brien, child psychologist, lecturer and media commentator.
Kimberley O’Brien, our principal child psychologist, discussed the use of technology by very young children with 7 News reporters. You can view interview review by visiting the Channel 7 website.
You can find useful, practical and informative advice about parenting and young people by visiting our resources page, – or discussing it on our forum. You can also provide your own opinion on our Facebook page or Twitter at @quirky_kid
If you have a story and would like to discuss it with us, please contact us to schedule a time.
Kimberley O’Brien enjoys sharing the best of her therapeutic moments with the media. View our media appearances to-date.