Kids' screen-time a short-sightedness risk
Children are being urged to go outside and take a break from handheld devices or risk short-sightedness.
Most parents know what it's like to have to drag their child kicking and screaming – sometimes literally – away from a screen.
Almost 70 per cent of parents have seen tantrums after taking their child's device away, according to a new survey, while about 40 per cent said using technology made their children more agitated or frustrated.
The Real Insurance Australian Kids and Technology Survey questioned 1000 parents about technology use by children aged three to 16.
About 90 per cent felt technology encouraged their children to be more creative and solve complex problems, and more than half said exposure to it made their children more inquisitive.
But 92 per cent said technology could be addictive for kids, 61 per cent worried that family members spent too much time at home isolated within tech cocoons, and 36 per cent said children had sent text messages, rather than talking to them, at home.
Sydney father Rajesh Margapuram said his sons Tejas, 14, and Taran, 9, use smartphones and laptops to access the internet for school work and projects, as well as for gaming.
"They are definitely learning a lot," he said. "But the amount of time they spend on it sometimes is a worry. How do you decide how much is too much?"
In 2015 Telstra research found 68 per cent of children aged three to 17 owned a smartphone, with an average of almost 22 hours a week spent on the devices.
The American Academy of Paediatrics last year relaxed its screen time guidelines for children, advising that parents watch media with their younger children and older children balance media use with healthy activities offline.
Joanne Orlando, senior lecturer in early childhood education at Western Sydney University and an expert on children and technology, said the changes acknowledged the research showing technology "has benefits for children if it's used in quality ways".
Dr Orlando said long hours of passive viewing were problematic, and children could easily stumble across sexual, violent or inappropriate content if using devices on their own.
"It's important to be aware of what your children are doing online … [to be] talking about technology use openly in the family home, helping children talk about what they're doing online, who they're talking to and what they saw."
She said managing children's screen time "causes a lot of stress in families". Because of what technology represents for children, turning it off could trigger emotional outbursts.
"For older children it is often their social connection … so if we take their device off them it's cutting off their ties to their friends," Dr Orlando said.
Younger children found tablets and smartphones interesting and easy to master so taking them away was "taking away the opportunity for them to enjoy it, but also for them to succeed".
Dr Orlando said constantly threatening to confiscate a child's device might make them reluctant to tell their parents about anything online that worried them.
Rather than ban the technology or reprimand children for spending too long on their devices, she suggested parents set boundaries around their use, warn them in advance when their screen time was almost up, and help them develop off-screen activities and interests.
Mr Margapuram said he and his wife Sunitha encouraged outdoor play if the boys were too focused on their phones or laptops.
"If you try and restrict them, they'll do it more on the sly," he said. "It's how you use it and how you manage it that's the biggest challenge."