PsychTalks on Screen Time for Kids

PsychTalks is a podcast by the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at Melbourne University.

This week we will take a look at an episode from this podcast surrounding screen time for kids and the effect on attention.

Attention is defined as focusing on one particular thing at a moment in time, and helps us stay alert and on task throughout the day.

In our very busy lives, parents may feel concerned or guilty about giving their child a screen to occupy them so that the parents can have some time away. However, recent research suggests that there is no need for this guilt.

Apps on phones and tablets are a great source of entertainment for many of us. But just with adults, it is the use of screens for extended periods of time and in excess that are a concern with children.

In moderation, children’s use of apps and games, especially those that involve creativity and strategy, can actually improve their sustained attention. Minecraft, in particular, was mentioned as a wonderful game for children to play.

However, passive consumption is not the same as active participation in a game or app. Children should not be consuming adult content and TV, which is not made in a way engaging for children’s brains. While children do need time to rest and relax as well, this should be done with media intended for children.

While recent studies have found that screens aren’t inherently bad for kids, the more time spent using tablets, the poorer their sleep quality. Poor sleep quality is then associated with poorer attention and performance in both school and day to day life.

Interestingly, this effect, which was found in children between the ages of 6 and 8, only affected sleep quality and not duration. By practicing good sleep hygiene, such as not using screens directly before bed, sleep quality can be improved.

This episode of PsychTalks also gave some tips to promote a positive experience with screen use in children. Importantly, parents should let kids choose the games that they want to play, as they should enjoy what they are doing. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t regulate their children’s screen time however, as parents should retain a level of oversight and make sure games are not only fun, but have a level of creativity or strategy to them, though not necessarily overtly educational in content. Games can be used as a positive reinforcement for less desired tasks, such as a reward for doing homework. However, as young children have a bad sense of time regulation, games should be avoided in the mornings before school.

Of course, parents should remain aware of the dangers of children being online. It is important that parents are aware of who their children are talking to and what websites they are on.

As with all things, the most important thing is to ensure screens are used in moderation. A balance with time spent in nature has been shown to improve attention control.

We hope you have enjoyed this week’s post, and find PsychTalks as interesting as we do!

Wishing you a wonderful week,

TCS Team

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