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How much screen time is TOO MUCH screen time?

Posted on 16 June 2020 by Erica

Here at the Classification Office we watch a LOT of content. Whether we’re classifying films, DVDs, video games, porn (yes, this is part of our job), or videos and imagery for law enforcement, we’re online and on screens most of the time. As adults who work in media regulation and classification we’ve become used to managing our time in front of the black mirror.

But we know that screen time is a particular point of concern for parents when it comes to their kids and teens (particularly when we all spent so much time online during lockdown!).

So how much is TOO much?

The answer isn’t black and white - not all screen time is created equal. Quality is more important than quantity. So before you start feeling too guilty for plopping the kids in front of a screen to save your sanity, or go yelling at them to put down the laptop, ask yourself some simple questions around how they’re using that screen time:

  • Is it for relaxation and entertainment - like watching films, series, or fail vids?
  • Is it for study and learning - like school lessons, distance education, lectures, or watching tutorials?
  • Is it for expanding their worldview and understanding, like watching documentaries or nature programmes?
  • Is it for connecting with family and friends – video chatting or messaging on social media?
  • Is it for video games? Many games and apps have positive features like puzzle solving, world building, team based interaction, strategy, and even meditative storytelling attributes.

Each one of these activities serves a different purpose in a child or teen’s life, and each has positive attributes. And as a parent you can enhance the value of that screen time by being interested in what they watch, and then engaging with them in some of these activities. Things like playing video games together, sharing shows, and asking questions that help them think about what they’re watching. Spending time with them, listening to them, and learning together is a valuable part of bonding.

And as with all things, moderation is key. Ideally screen time should be balanced with other indoor activities (reading, chores, cooking, playing games), outdoor activities (like gardening, playing sports, walking the dog or riding a bike), eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and above all, being present in the moment. It’s a good reminder for parents too, that our kids value our attention – putting down our own phones and shutting down our laptops is just as good for us. No matter what age we are, these questions are useful for all of us when thinking about how we’re spending our time online.

Erica works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

A young girl is shown in profile. She sits on the couch and is looking at a tablet. Behind her is text saying "How much screen time is too much screen time?"

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