Australian children spending more time on screens

Australian children spending more time on screens

Media Release — 20 September 2016

Boy in front of TV screen

A majority of Australian children are spending large amounts of time on screen activities in excess of the recommended 2-hour daily limit for screen entertainment, according to research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children has tracked the screen habits of 4,000 pre-schoolers through to their early teens over the last decade, recording a steady increase in time spent watching television, on computers and playing electronic games.

Institute Director, Anne Hollonds said by the age of 12-13 years old, Australian children spent an average of 3 hours per week-day and almost 4 hours per weekend day using screens, or around 20 per cent of their waking time on weekdays and 30 per cent on weekends.

“By their early teens, 64 per cent of 12-13 year olds are spending considerably more than the Australian Government’s daily recommended 2 hour limit on screen time for entertainment,” she said.

LSAC Manager, Associate Professor Ben Edwards said that watching television was the main contributor to screen time across all age groups, peaking during the late afternoon, with a smaller peak for younger children in the morning.

“Children watched more TV on weekends than weekdays, with overall viewing rates high at age 4-5, reducing at 6-7 and then edging their way back up again every two years after that, to peak when kids are 12-13 years old,” he said.

“However, parents can help curtail their children’s screen time by setting rules about watching television and not allowing TVs into kids’ bedrooms.

“The proportion of children watching 2 or more hours daily TV was higher in families with a large number of TVs, when there was a TV is the child’s bedroom and in homes where there are no rules limiting the amount of TV children can watch.

“Among households with more educated parents there were fewer children watching 2 hours of TV during the week. But by the weekend, all kids were watching roughly the same amount.

“However, kids who take part in a team sport or activities, like art or music were less likely to exceed the 2 hours, particularly boys whose usage dropped significantly compared to boys without extracurricular activities.”

Professor Edwards said the study also examined children’s enjoyment of physical activities and their physical wellbeing and found a link to less screen time. 

“Boys and girls from 10-13 years who reported that they were ‘fit’ were significantly less likely to spend more than 2 hours with screens on a weekday, compared to those who said they were ‘unfit’,” he said.

“Boys and girls who classified themselves as ‘high energy’ were also significantly less likely to be watching more than 2 hours of TV a day. These children tended to be less interested in screens and had more time for physical activities.

“At the same age, children who spent more time on devices reported feeling less energetic and fit.

“Our research suggests that if children are offered physical activities they enjoy, they will tend to reduce their screen time.”

Professor Edwards said that as screens become more ubiquitous in adults and children’s lives, expecting children to stick to 2 hours of daily screen entertainment might no longer be achievable.

“While technology can unlock new skills and there is value in children using computers for gathering information and socialising, it may be time to have another look at how realistic these guidelines are,” he said.

“However, some management of screen time is important so kids have a quality engagement with television, computers or games and they are not undertaking these activities at the expense of keeping fit and well.”

Read the LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2015: Chapter 5 - Australian children's screen time and participation in extracurricular activities

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