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Screen Time vs. Reading Time: The Australian Childhood Dilemma

Screen Time vs. Reading Time: The Australian Childhood Dilemma

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There’s likely been some point in your parenting journey where you’ve questioned if your child is having too much screen time. It could be the time when they come home, after dinner, on weekends or added time on school holidays. While an hour or two here may not seem like it will cause any harm, you may be interested in how to swap that time over to something more productive, like reading.

This guide will help you learn more about the advantages of swapping screen time with books, and how to replace that time. 

How Screen Time Can Affect Kids

While there are some benefits of screen time for children, including problem solving and creative skills, excessive screen time can affect their development. Some of the leading problems contributed to by excessive screen time include:

  • Social-emotional development delays.
  • Cognitive delays.
  • Language delays.
  • Obesity.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Emotional comprehension impairment.

These delays and problems can differ from child-to-child, depending on their age, how much screen time they’re having and the contents of shows, movies and games they’re watching.

Recommended amount of screen time for children:

The recommended amount of screen time for kids by the Australian Department of Health includes:

  • 0 Time for Children Aged 2 & Under
  • 1 Hour or Less Per Day For Children Aged 2 to 5 Years
  • 2 Hours or Less Per Day For Children/Teens Aged 5 to 17

This includes all screen time, including TV, tablets, mobile phones and gaming, unless for educational purposes. 

Symptoms of too much screen time:

There may be some key signs your child is having too much screen time, including:

  • Having trouble falling asleep.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Declining grades.
  • Becoming aggressive or violent.
  • Spending less time playing.
  • Gaining weight.


There may be other causes of these factors, so it’s important to speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.

How to Replace Screen Time With Reading 

Make fun and interesting books more accessible.

The more fun you can make reading, the more they’ll want to do it. Having a bookshelf with books dedicated to your child will help them know they have reading materials just for them to enjoy. Young children may be more interested in picture books and interactive activity books, while older children and teens will love young-adult stories, fanfiction novels and age-appropriate Busy Books.

“When you make reading fun, kids want to do it. By incorporating reading with games, you’ll find kids even start gravitating towards books on their own or asking you to get involved in reading.”

For example, The Starting With Science Busy Books is a fun, interactive book filled with science experiments and activities. Kids learn to match the picture of laboratory equipment with their names, understanding non-living versus living objects and more. It’s fun for all ages and can help make reading time fun!

Starting with Science Acrtivity 1 scaled 3

Create a habit of reading.

Routine is incredibly important for building habits in children. Kids thrive in stable, predictable environments. It reduces power struggle as they know the routine, can help them feel more emotionally grounded and help them show independence in knowing what to do next. 

To start making reading a habit, set a time each day where the whole family turns off digital devices and screens, and sits down with a book. You can read as a family, get the kids’ friends involved or you can each choose a book of your own. It’s important you also get involved to lead by example. There may be some resistance at first, but by sticking to the schedule, you’ll find it gets easier over time.

Encourage them to explore reading about their interests.

Kids will be more likely to enjoy and want to read when they are already interested in the subject of the book. Take an interest in what your child is watching on TV or the games they play, and see what books you can get with a similar theme. You can even get books with their favourite TV characters to help get them started.

There are many Busy Books covering topics kids love to explore. The Exploring Our World Busy Book is popular amongst children who love to explore, as they learn their directions, continents, hemispheres and more. They’ll love discovering about how our planet works. 

Exploring our World activity 16 scaled 4

Read as a family.

Children, especially young kids, are watching more than you may think. By seeing you and other older people around them reading regularly, they’ll be more intrigued to see what it’s all about. Even better if you can get the whole family engaged in one story, sharing time together discussing the story and getting the younger children involved.

When reading as a family, it’s important to choose a book everyone will be interested in so there can be genuine enthusiasm by children and adults alike. Fantasy young-adult stories are often enticing to all ages, so can be a good place to start. All ages can also get involved with Busy Books, doing activities and taking turns in acting out sounds and scenes.

Create balance.

Sudden, drastic changes can be upsetting to children, especially if they’re too young to understand the benefits of why something is being changed. Gradually introducing reading and reducing screen time can help it be a less stressful experience for all involved.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does TV count as screen time?

TV, phones, tablets and gaming are all considered screen time. Excessive screen time may disrupt a child’s sleep, cause mood and behavioural issues, developmental delays and more.

What are guidelines for screen time in Australia?

The Australian Department of Health recommends children 2 years or younger have no screen time, children aged 2 to 5 years have no more than 1 hour of screen time per day and children and young adults aged 5 to 17 years have less than 2 hours of sedentary recreational screen time per day. This does not include educational screen time.

Why shouldn’t parents completely limit screen time?

Screen time can give children a new way to learn and give them exposure to different situations. This can be beneficial for child development, while ensuring children are not receiving excessive screen time. 

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