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Kids and technology

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Technology use is a big part of the world today, including for children.
  • Many children have access to technology and the internet, both at home and at school.
  • Technology can help your child develop, but there are also risks associated with internet use and screen time.
  • It’s okay for your child to use technology, but you should also encourage them to also be active and social.

What are the benefits of the technology for children?

Today’s children are connected to the world in many ways. Children use computers, tablets and mobile phones to play games, browse on the web and access social media sites. Technology is also being used more in schools. You can help your child enjoy the benefits of technology while avoiding the risks.

Technology, media and online environments can be powerful tools for learning. They can help your child:

  • form their identity
  • gain education
  • develop social skills and connections
  • grow their creativity
  • improve their problem solving skills
  • gain concentration skills
  • develop self-confidence

What are the risks of technology use for my child?

There are risks when your child uses technology.

Risks with internet use

Young children may not understand that they shouldn’t give private information to strangers. On the internet, they may have contact with:

  • people they do not know
  • adults pretending to be children

They also may not understand that information on the internet is not always true or helpful.

There’s a risk that your child might see harmful content online, such as:

  • pornography and sexualised images
  • cruelty to animals
  • violent imagery
  • material that reinforces harmful stereotypes
  • advertising or gambling materials
  • inappropriate language

Your child may also have other upsetting experiences online, such as:

  • experiencing conflict with other children
  • making accidental purchases

If your child plays online alone, they may miss out on collaborating and learning social skills with peers.

Risks with screen time

The World Health Organization says that to grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more. Spending time sitting and using technology may affect your child’s health and fitness.

Too much screen time can take them away from the pleasure of discovery in the natural world. It can also result in physical problems like:

  • sore eyes
  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • a stiff neck and spine
  • obesity and other health problems

Too much screen time can also cause disturbed sleep patterns, especially if your child uses technology close to bedtime.

Children who spend too much time in front of screens may be at risk of:

  • having shorter attention spans
  • having difficulty making decisions
  • being less prepared for school
  • being less interested in social activities
  • behaviour changes, such as anger when asked to put technology away

How often should my child use technology?

The Department of Health and Aged Care has different recommendations for sedentary behaviour (sitting) and technology use, depending on your child’s age.

Infants (younger than 12 months of age) and toddlers (1 to 2 years old) should:

  • not be restrained (such as in a stroller, car seat or highchair) for more than one hour at a time
  • not have any screen time

However, there are some exceptions to screen time for young children. This can include social experiences, such as family chats via video link.

Children aged 3 to 5 — should spend less than one hour sitting and using screens during the day.

Children aged 5 to 17 years — are recommended to limit their recreational screen time to 2 hours or less a day (not including schoolwork).

While using technology, it’s best that you or another adult supervises your child. This way, you can help them understand and navigate any content they may see.

How can I manage my child’s technology use?

It’s a good idea to balance screen time with other aspects of your child’s life. You can monitor this by setting rules for when and where they can look at screens. It’s especially important to keep screens out of children’s bedrooms at night.

It’s also important to set a good example. Babies and young children learn habits from you. So, you can model healthy screen use by:

  • switching off your phone during meals
  • doing plenty of physical activity outdoors
  • turning off the TV when you’re not watching it
  • giving your child your full attention rather than checking your phone

If you set rules for your child’s technology or internet use, encourage the rest of the family to also follow these rules. You can also ask your child’s friends to follow these rules when they visit.

How can I make technology safer for my child?

You can help your child use technology safely by:

  • learning how to make internet access safer
  • monitoring their technology use
  • teaching them about the risks involved

There are ways you can minimise online dangers for your child.

  • Talk to you child about how to stay safe online as soon as they have internet access.
  • Become familiar with appropriate sites for children and show your child sites that are fun, interesting and educational.
  • Keep computers in the family room so you can see which websites children are visiting and for how long.
  • Don’t allow children to use mobile phones or other devices in private rooms.
  • Ask your child to let you know if a stranger contacts them or if they feel bullied or frightened.
  • Make sure your child knows they won’t get in trouble for speaking to you if they see or experience something disturbing online.
  • Choose a family-friendly internet service provider, use safe search engines and apply web browsing tools to filter out harmful or distressing material.

How can I occupy my child without technology?

Real-life experiences are valuable for young children. Having face to face interactions with adults and other children is important for their development.

Alongside using technology, you should encourage your child to engage in a wide range of activities that:

  • build physical and social skills
  • stimulate their thinking and creativity

There are lots of great ways to entertain your child other than using the television or a tablet:

  • read storybooks
  • tell stories
  • do puzzles
  • do arts and crafts
  • let babies play on the floor
  • talk to your child and play with them
  • sing rhymes together
  • go for a walk in the neighbourhood
  • go to a park or the beach
  • play in your backyard
  • walk instead of driving

Encourage your child to create their own playtime to encourage their independence. You can supervise them, so they don’t come to harm.

Where can I find more information?

Parents can find out more information on the safe use of technology and online spaces through:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023

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