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  • Writer's pictureDr Nicole White

A Fortnight of Fortnite (or not!)

So, two more sleeps until school holidays. Excited? I know I am. Two weeks of relaxed mornings, no school lunches, no rushing around to sport on the weekend. Sounds perfect. Although keeping the little darlings occupied for two weeks in winter might be challenging. Let’s be honest, I am sure we will all pull out the ipad or gaming console to help - in fact as I write this blog it is a rainy afternoon and my kids are binge watching Bondi Rescue. We do however have some fairly firm screen time guidelines in our house and we do not own a gaming console. Let me explain.

When enough is enough?

Surely screen time is not all bad, but how much is ok?

Paediatric groups have the following recommendations around appropriate screen time in children:

  • Less than 18 months - none at all

  • 18 mths – 2 years – minimal screen time and only used in an interactive fashion with adults – watching a TV show together, video chatting to overseas relatives, playing on an app with your child

  • 2 years and over – maximum of 2 hours per day with parental supervision

Are the dangers real - what would the doctor say?

Everything we do comes with some risk. So I am a firm believer of everything in moderation. The same can be applied to the use of devices and gaming for our children. Sure there are benefits – exposure to interesting and educational content, interaction with friends and others through gaming platforms, hours of entertainment, the list goes on. Everyone else is doing it so it must be fine!

But there are risks – you know it and I know it. Excessive screen use is linked to eye strain,

headaches and fatigue, as well as neck pain. Then there is the burgeoning problem of childhood obesity – sitting on a couch gaming or with a handheld device is not helping.

From a mental health point of view there are serious risks. The WHO now recognises "gaming disorder" as a medical diagnosis and we know that there is an increased incidence of depression among teenagers who game excessively. Over recent months I have seen a number of young boys suffering from insomnia, irritability, mood swings and poor attention at school. Each of them has been playing Fortnite to excess. Similar reports have appeared recently in the broader media and many schools have published warnings to parents. Although Fortnite is animated, the high level violence that it exposes children to is concerning. Obviously Fortnite is not the only game out there but it is certainly the game of the day – just ask my son who claims he is a social outcast because he is not allowed to play. Fortunately he still knows how to floss so he will be ok.

Interaction with devices provides constant stimulus to the brain, there is no rest – gaming or device use is not “down time.” Have you noticed how cranky your children are when it is time to turn off the device? It is essential that our children have an opportunity to get bored – this encourages them to pursue other activities such as interacting with their peers, playing outside, craft, board games or boring old reading!

Of course there is also the risk of exposure to inappropriate online content or interaction with unsavoury individuals. This is a minefield that I feel unprepared for as a parent. I am not sure what the answer is but supervision is key – please keep an eye on what your children are doing online and who they are talking to.

Finally, let’s consider our own device use. Who isn’t guilty of taking a quick check of facebook when we should be interacting with our kids? We need to be mindful of the screen time behaviour that we model for our children. Most of us have room for improvement here.

Rules are rules

What are the screen time rules in my household? Pretty simple really:

No screens on school days during term

TV or devices for short times when there has been some physical activity prior

TVs or devices are only used in the main living areas - no devices in the bedrooms.

No fortnite or violent games.

So, let’s get excited about the holidays. Make a screen time plan for your family – I know you

can do it. You will face massive backlash and whinging but be strong – it is in their best interest. Two hours per day and the rest is for other things. LET THEM GET BORED – it is a luxury! I can’t remember the last time I had an opportunity to be bored. Arrange some play dates, get them riding bikes or scooters, take them to the local park, there are endless activities on offer throughout the school holidays.

What are your top tips for screen free entertainment these holidays?


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