Monitoring screen time and planning for change
Many parents/carers, educators, clinicians and health professionals are interested in reducing or limiting young children’s screen time. Let’s take a look at some strategies to do this. The very first steps are monitoring and planning.
Whether we are interested in how much time children engage with screens at home or at childcare, the first step is finding out what is happening by answering the following questions:
- how much time are children spending in front of screens?
- when are they engaging with electronic media?
- what types of electronic media content are they engaging with?
- who are children participating with when engaging with media?
We can do this or assist parents in doing this using a technique called “behaviour monitoring”. Firstly, we’ll need a diary with columns for each day of the week and 30minute time slots throughout each day. See the downloads section at the bottom of this page for a template that you can use (page 1) and examples of how to complete it (pages 2-3).
Sample template: (Click to expand)
For 1 week, parents/carers or educators can monitor children’s behaviour by filling in when they engage with screens and other important details. This can assist in understanding the “full picture” of young children’s screen time. Adults should focus on the time they are in care of the child (e.g. educators should focus on childcare time, and parents should focus on time children are not at childcare).
Children’s screen time might not always occur at the same times each day or week, but some screen time will typically occur in patterns or as a habit, and the process of monitoring behaviour will assist in raising our awareness about the key opportunities to break the habit and reduce children’s screen time.
Once we have completed a diary to monitor and understand a child’s screen time behaviour, we can start planning how to reduce it. For obesity prevention, focus firstly on times when children are engaging with passive media content such as television programs, where children are consuming media rather than interacting with it, and also might be consuming food, such as at meal-times or afternoon tea. Other key times that could be targeted are the period before bedtime, because screen time during this period can delay bedtime and reduce sleep, or screen time during parts of the day when children could otherwise be engaging in active play and physical activity, outdoors or indoors.
See the downloads section (page 2) for examples of how certain time periods can been targeted to plan for change. In the next step we are going to look at how to use information obtained from monitoring a child’s screen time to set goals for changing screen time behaviours. In the meantime you may wish to participate in the following activity.
Using the template provided (in the downloads section) monitor a child’s screen time behaviour for a day/week. Share your observations in the comments section.