Managing TV

How much screentime is too much for children is a commonly-asked question. A recent study by the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital revealed that Australian parents believe excessive screentime is the top health problem faced by children today. In fact, 60 per cent believe it to be a big problem and one in five rate it as a big problem in their own home.

So how much TV are children watching? Research published by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) shows that the average daily television viewing habits of Australian children in 2013 were:

  • preschool children (aged 0 to 4) watched two hours and 26 minutes
  • children aged between 5 and 12 averaged one hour and 49 minutes
  • teenagers aged 13 to 17 averaged one hour and 34 minutes.

Health experts have made recommendations for screen time limits based on a child’s age. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines advise that the amount of time spent using electronic media for entertainment (for instance, watching TV, videos, playing electronic games and using computers) should not exceed:

  • Under two: Zero
  • 2 to 5 years: Less than one hour per day
  • 5 to 17 years: Less than two hours per day.

As with everything in life balance is key, so try to help your children enjoy a mix of entertainment and socialising opportunities that aren’t just screen based. Find out more about screen time and learn how to set screen time limits for your kids in our section on Balancing time online.

How can I monitor smart TVs and best use the parental controls?

The introduction of smart TVs means your TV screen can be used to search websites, play apps and watch video-on-demand thanks to integrated internet connectivity. Access to greater entertainment choices is one of its many benefits, yet when you are trying to monitor what your kids are watching, smart TVs are another portal for them to potentially access the internet unsupervised or view unsuitable material. But there are plenty of ways to minimise these risks, including:

  • checking the type of parental controls available, such as PIN codes to lock certain channels, websites and apps
  • activating parental controls as soon as the smart TV is set up to restrict specific channels and programs—Free TV provides useful information about parental locks
  • reading the television instructions (most can also be found via a google search).

Remember, parental controls are not always foolproof, so it is important that you are still actively involved in their viewing time. For advice on specific controls, check out Foxtel, Apple TV and Free TV.

What do I need to know about services like Netflix and Stan?

Subscription video-on-demand services (SVOD)—commonly known as ‘streaming’—provide a program library for a monthly (or pay per view) fee accessed via a broadband connection through a web browser, streaming media box, or an app on a smart TV. Popular SVODs include Netflix, Presto TV, Stan and Quickflix.

The pros

You are not restricted by a fixed television schedule so you can watch programs at any time on any internet-enabled device on your terms—this means your children’s bedtime is not being dictated by a show’s finishing time.

The cons

Your child could turn on a device, such as a video game console or smart TV, and access content that you may not want them to see. These SVODs are not covered by the same codes of practice that free-to-air and subscription television broadcasters are required to follow. International programs will have different classification ratings according to their country of origin, so check user review websites about specific programs ahead of time.

How can I ensure my kids have a safe viewing experience with streaming services?

  • Activate parental controls to control access to programs based on their classification type and if required, block access to movie rentals and purchases. Instructions are available on the support pages of the provider’s site. We have included links for these services—Stan, Netflix, Presto and Quickflix.
  • Choose programs with child-friendly content by checking their official classification.
  • Set up a separate profile for each child (if offered by the service) to track what has been viewed and set age appropriate restrictions.
  • Check to see if the service allows individual profiles to be PIN protected. This will help stop a child accessing your profile and viewing more mature content. You can also set the parental control levels to the lowest maturity level for all profiles.
  • Find out if the service enables you to set parental controls for all internet-enabled devices through a single account.
    Organisations like Raising Children, Australian Council on Children and the Media and Common Sense Media have websites that offer user reviews and classification and age recommendations for TV shows and movies. You'll find a more extensive list of user review websites, including reviews of games and apps, on our Choosing movies and games page.

Six tips to help fine-tune the TV habits of your kids

You can play an active role in shaping the TV experience of your kids. Developing good habits from an early age can help them make better choices about what to view and how long to stay tuned in to the screen. Try these six tips to maintain a healthy TV diet for your family.

1. Discuss TV programs with your kids

Play an active role in choosing programs that inspire, teach and broaden their understanding of the world.
Use TV as an ally in helping them navigate life. TV programs can offer opportunities for conversations about sensitive topics like drugs, alcohol, sex and violence.

Talk to them about what they see on TV and help them process content. Use the learning opportunity to ask questions like 'Do you think it was okay when…’, ‘What else could they have done?’, ‘What would happen in real life if that happened?’

2. Open TV location

Create TV-free bedrooms. TVs can be distracting and may interfere with homework or sleep. Consider banning them or setting viewing curfews according to age.

Decide whether TV is allowed to be watched on other platforms in the home, such as on computers and tablets.

3. Check content

Use TV classifications and program reviews to select suitable programs. Is the program appropriate for your child’s age?
Watch the programs your child watches regularly. Consider if they meet your standards for education, age appropriate content, violence, nudity and sexual themes, whether they portray positive interactions between characters and if they show consequences for actions.

Consider buying or renting children’s videos or DVDs to manage what programs are viewed and when.

4. Turn on parental controls

Activate the parental control features on your television set or program service to control access to specific channels or programs. Consider a parental control tool more as a safety net—it is not a complete solution but can work well in tandem with involved parenting.

5. Organise a family TV viewing plan

As a family, draw up a TV plan. It is important that each member agrees and understands the rules. This will help your kids understand the values that are important to their family. Your plan may include agreed TV viewing times (TV might be restricted during mealtimes or until completion of school work), amount of screen time (this is likely to be age dependent), physical placement of TV and other devices, and types of programs and channels that can be viewed (younger children may be restricted to ‘C’ and ‘P’ programs).

Avoid using TV time as a reward or punishment as this approach may inflate the importance of TV to children.

6. Regulate screentime

Pay attention to how much your child spends viewing all screen-based media in your home, compared to spending time being active.

Set limits according to your child’s age and enforce them.

Turn the TV off during meals and reduce background TV by turning the screen off when not being used.

Plan some TV-free time by encouraging non-screen-based activities such as reading books, playing board games, listening to music, playing outdoors, sport, riding bikes and socialising with friends.

Record programs or use catch-up TV to allow children to watch favourite programs at times that suit the family schedule, such as after homework has been completed.

Consider leading by example by reducing your own screen time.

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