CMCH asked Australian author Tania Andrusiak to be a guest blogger and give us the inside scoop on how people are reacting to the Australian government's screen time recommendations. Tania is the author of Adproofing Your Kids: Raising critical thinkers in a media-saturated world.
Get Up and Grow, the new parenting guidelines aimed at fostering healthy habits in children, were released last week by the Australian government. Developed in conjunction with Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Melbourne’s Royal Children's Hospital, these are the first official recommendations to address children’s screen time: none at all for kids under age two, and a maximum of one hour per day for those aged two to five.
But here’s the rub: these guidelines fly in the face of real screen habits. Australian children under four watch a daily average of 154 minutes of free-to-air TV, or 194 minutes of cable TV – with four-month-olds exposed to around 44 minutes. Not surprisingly, this made for some healthy debate.
Patricia Edgar, founding director of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation suggested the guidelines reflected a lack of understanding about what really went on in the lives of Australian children. This sentiment echoed across many parenting message boards, with resentment over the government’s perceived intrusion into the right to parent as we wish. However, an equal amount felt that limiting young children’s screen time was simple commonsense, and quite a few were compelled to seek out further information.
And perhaps raising awareness is where ‘Get Up and Grow’ will make its biggest impact. While most forum participants agreed that TV limited children’s socialisation, it was clear that few were aware of the problems these guidelines were created to address: the impact on young children’s language development, attention span and active play. Only a handful identified that TV affects the ability of a caregiver to attend to children, or that kids routinely see images they find confusing, upsetting and scary. And the idea that TV made it hard for kids to concentrate on playing had some clearly puzzled: weren’t they just ‘multitasking’?
Kudos to the Rudd Government for introducing evidence-based parenting into discussions around children’s screen time. Often it’s hard to know what the ‘right amount’ is – especially when modern life, the habits of others and our children’s unique ability to get more than they need seem to thwart our efforts. While the success of ‘Get Up and Grow’ remains to be seen, at least it’s got parents talking, and that’s got to be a good thing.
I’ll leave the last thought to Katey, mother of a nine-month-old: "I cannot imagine that the TV could give my child more than I do. It cannot take her outside to play on the grass, cannot speak directly to her, cannot hold her while she pats a cat or a dog or a sheep, cannot respond to her babbling, cannot play the music she likes, cannot teach her the name of something she is pointing at."
If only the Rudd Government had put it so eloquently.