Guidelines recommending no screen time for children under two are too strict, fail to offer support to parents and lead to guilt and confusion, WA experts have warned.
The academics have called for more nuanced advice which better reflects parenting in the digital age and the positive role technology can play.
Curtin University physiotherapy professor Leon Straker said parents were faced with conflicting advice — on one hand digital technology was encouraged to enhance learning and skills but the public health message advocates for no or limited use of technology due to wellbeing and development fears.
The Federal government advises that children under two should have no screen time and those aged between 2-5 should have no more than one hour.
Professor Straker said parent feedback was that these guidelines were unrealistic and “ridiculous”.
“They were turned off by them, they thought they were a joke and ignored the whole thing,” he said.
“We need national guidance which helps and supports families so children can get the benefits of this fantastic technology while minimising the harm to them,” he said.
Earlier this month, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK released its first guidance on screen time and found it was “impossible to recommend age-appropriate time limits because there is not enough evidence to confirm that screen time is in itself harmful to child health at any age.”
They argued we need to “let parents be parents” and adjust the amount of time spent on screens by all members of the family, depending on what’s important to them and their child.
Edith Cowan University communications professor Lelia Green said Australia was behind the game on the issue.
She said her research suggested parents felt guilt trying to keep within the conservative guidelines.
“Happy families help create happy children and stressed parents find it hard not to pass on those stresses to children,” she said.
“Sometimes the best thing is to allow them (brief screen time) to give mum and dad a chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee.
“The perfect childhood for today’s digital life is lots of variety, mixed activities, fun and laughter.”
She suggested parents of younger children co-consume with them, and get into the habit of talking to them about what they are watching.
Phys-ed teacher Alexis Ryan’s daughter Kayla, 22 months, watches a limited amount of TV.
“I don’t see a problem with it, if it’s in moderation,” she said. “As a health and physical education teacher I know the importance of learning and exercise so Kayla’s TV is minimal.
“Sometimes she will sit there by herself so I can get her breakfast or lunch ready or sometimes we will sit down together to watch it.
“With both parents having to work, there are times where TV is necessary for everyone’s mental health. Plus there are good educational shows – she learns, interacts and dances.”