We know getting the screen time balance right is a significant challenge for parents anecdotally, and from the results of a survey of 1,000 Australian parents launched in October 2018 that showed that technology was the single biggest factor leading to only 55% of children playing outside every day. Research by Telstra in 2017 showed that 64% of Australian kids aged 3-17 own a smartphone and this number is growing. Staggeringly, when smartphones, tablets and computers are combined, on average, our kids are spending 23 hours per week glued to their devices. Excessive screen use is both mentally and physically detrimental to our children.
The psychological impacts of excessive screen time can include an increase in loneliness, depression or depressive symptoms, a higher prevalence of withdrawal and anxiety.
One study found that excessive screen use can reduce the total words spoken in the household from 6000 per day to 500. This reduction can have a considerable impact on the expansion of a child’s vocabulary and their general cognitive development which can disadvantage them for the rest of their lives.
The physical impacts are no less destructive. We are now seeing a generation of children with an increased incidence of obesity, higher levels of cholesterol, much lower levels of cardiovascular fitness and poor sleep habits and patterns. We know that when children experience disadvantage during their critical formative years, it can develop patterns that result in a sub-optimal future.
Research shows that 59% of boys in primary school and 73% of girls do not meet the minimum guidelines for physical activity.
This lack of physical activity coupled with a societal trend of disconnection with nature is having a profound and damaging impact on our children. Almost a quarter of Australian children are now considered overweight or obese. Around 14% are diagnosed with a mental health disorder each year.
On the other hand, a growing body of research is showing that playing outside plays a critical role in children’s health, happiness, and development.
Most parents are aware of the potential adverse effects of screen time and the positive impacts of outdoor play. However, they find it increasingly difficult to negotiate a healthy balance of outdoor play and the use of sedentary technologies within their children’s increasingly scheduled lives.
The challenge of finding a healthy balance between screen-time and green-time is made particularly difficult by a scarcity of practical resources and guides for this uniquely modern problem. Nature Play WA aims to help fill this resource gap for WA families.