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‘Full on’: Lockdowns force families to manage screen time

Many schools stop families from installing their own parental control software on school devices, creating concerns about how kids might be using their screens during school time.

Family Zone managing director Tim Levy says parents are more reluctant to talk about cyber safety than in years gone by.

Family Zone managing director Tim Levy says parents are more reluctant to talk about cyber safety than in years gone by.

“In the lead up to June [last year] we had a lot of parents ringing us up, saying ‘this is mayhem’,” Levy says. “Parental control sales doubled April to June.”

Family Zone sells products to both schools and family homes, including tools to help manage time limits on gaming and internet use. Shares in the company are up almost 60 per cent over the past year.

Despite Australian families being more focused than ever on their screen time, Levy believes parents have found it more difficult in recent years to talk to their kids about cyber safety and managing their time behind the screen.

“They are jaded about it… Because parents are busy, tired and stressed, I think that’s one reason they steer clear.”

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When his team talk to schools and families about staying safe online, Levy says the focus is on starting conversations as early as possible.

“When we talk to schools today, we start early, trying to create boundaries and safe behaviours for young kids.”

Brainard is keeping virtual activities diverse at home, and actively builds in screen-free time each week. “Every couple of days I just take her off the computer completely,” she says.

But making that switch isn’t always straightforward. “It’s like candy, kids love being in front of screens, so it’s not easy and there are definitely long discussions.”

Despite that challenge, the breadth of digital activities available has been a welcome feature, according to Brainard, with everything from personal finance classes to science experiments available online.

“I think she’s getting a bit of a rounder education at home, I think. We’re trying to look at these things as a positive,” Brainard says.

Expert in children and technology and senior lecturer at the University of Western Sydney Dr Joanne Orlando says keeping a diverse range of activities on offer is important. Australians need to move away from simply monitoring ‘screen time’ to monitoring the quality of the virtual experiences their children have, she says.

“One way of thinking about it is screen impact — not all screens are the same. If your child is on the screen, and they’re doing classes, the impact is probably good,” she says.

Setting up regular breaks across the day can help with balance, Dr Orlando says.

“It could be the time when you just have afternoon tea at home, or the time that you go and walk the dog. Something that is just that refresher time.”

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