If you have more than one child - and statistics show 86 percent of families do - then managing screen-time can be double trouble. Or triple or quadruple or …
Families with two children are the Australian norm today, according to the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), with one-child families accounting for only 14% of the total. (Fun fact: As recently as 1981, families were twice s likely to have three kids as two!)
While big families can bring big joy, they can also bring big challenges for digital parents. Quite simply, the more kids you have, the more complicated it becomes to establish healthy digital habits.
That’s just commonsense. Limiting screen-time to two hours of quality content a day for a single school-age child may be relatively easy. But in households with children at different ages and stages - from tweens who clamour for Roblox and YouTube to toddlers demanding tablet time to older teens toggling between TikTok and study - day-to-day screen-time management can be exhausting.
And if you needed scientific proof, a new study has just provided it. University of Queensland researchers found 57% of families adhered to recommended screen-time limits if, and only if, they had kids in the same age category.
Families with children in different age categories struggled to meet recommended limits, with only 23% reporting compliance with current guidelines. Those guidelines, set by the Australian Department of Health as part of its 24-hour movement recommendations, advise
Previous studies have shown even lower levels of compliance, finding that most of our kids spend more time on screens than is recommended - sometimes dramatically more.
Estimates from the AIFS research show only 17–23% of preschoolers and 15% of 5- to 12-year-olds meet screen-time guidelines.
But it’s among the youngest children - ages 0 to 4 - that compliance is lowest. And the numbers were particularly dramatic in families with older siblings. In these families, pre-schoolers were exceeding screen-time limits by up to 92%.
What parents can do
The Queensland researchers advise that time spent in nature can undo some of the adverse health effects associated with excessive screen-time, which can include poor mental health, irregular sleep patterns, increased conduct problems over time, and emotional symptoms such as hyperactivity/inattention, and problems socialising.
They also called for a review of existing screen-time guidelines to incorporate more manageable goals - allowing for the possibility, in other words, that the problem may lie as much with the recommendations as with the way families are managing their kids’ device use.
According to lead researcher Dr. Leigh Tooth, that problem is particularly stark for bigger families.
“While many guidelines now focus on quality over quantity, such as co-viewing and enriching content, difficulties remain for families with several children,” she says.
“We would like to see current screen time guidelines modified to accommodate families with multiple children and more policies and resources with practical tips and strategies for parents."
Customisable parental controls are among the most effective practical strategies for families with children of different ages. Family Zone, for example, gives parents the flexibility to set individual routines for each child in the family, on every device they use, from phones to laptops to gaming consoles and smart TVs.
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