Children take their behavioural cues from the world around them. Screen time – the time spent watching television, playing computer games, and being on the internet – is a big influence on kids’ understanding of right and wrong and the way they develop socially. Think of all the TV shows and theme songs lodged in your subconscious from childhood! 

For families, it can sometimes feel like a massive task to ensure children aren’t coming into contact with bad language, overly-mature content, or inappropriate role models through the media. Studies linking excess screen time to childhood obesity and impaired brain development in babies and toddlers is also concerning. (For more, see the Government’s physical activity recommendations for children.) 

The upside is that with effective limits and adult guidance, school-aged children can generally learn to take an element of responsibility for their TV, internet and gaming habits. Here are some ideas you might like to try at home.

Choose appropriate programs, computer games and websites together
Talking through why some content is acceptable and why some isn’t involves kids in the decision-making process. Choose a list of acceptable programs, games and websites together and show them that you trust them to stick to it. This way there are no surprises for them if they deviate from what has been agreed on. 

Set a time limit on their daily or weekly screen time habits
For example, you could introduce an ‘hour of power’ once a day or several times a week during which they are free to choose from your preapproved games, programs and websites. Being up-front about the time frame means fewer arguments when it’s time to switch off and go outside. 

Treat screen time as a privilege, not a right 
You wouldn’t feed kids chocolate and sweets for every meal as they’re not the healthiest foods around. But you may not exclude them entirely from the pantry either. You could treat screen time in the same way with children – as a privilege, not as a given, and one that is linked to their behaviour.  

Teach good online behaviours
It’s really important to talk about what is and isn’t acceptable online conduct with your child, and show them that they can come to you with any questions or problems. If you feel like cyberspace isn’t your strong suit, fear not. Parents and carers can get up to speed with a host of free cybersafety resources for families from the Government’s Cybersmart website

Avoid advertising where possible 
As you know, ‘pester power’ works. But children are very literal beings, and ads can impact on their values, sense of the world, and even self-confidence. Look into content without ads or that is pre-recorded so you can fast-forward through the commercials. You could even talk to your children about the realities of advertising.

You may like to read more about supporting children's social development.