Switch off and play for real

REMOVING electronic devices from bedrooms is the best way to get children away from the screen and into the real world, a study has found.

The study of 427 Year 5 Adelaide students showed simple play equipment such as a bat and ball were more effective than expensive options, including a pool or basketball hoop, when trying to get children to exercise.

Published in the BMC Public Health journal, the study, co-authored by UniSA researcher Dot Dumuid, found children with video games in their bedroom spent an additional 42 minutes a day watching the screen, compared with those who did not.

This was followed by mobile phones in any location (35 minutes), video games in any location (30 minutes), and a television in the bedroom, which added 27 minutes.

Conversely, children who had a bike spent an extra 12 minutes exercising than those who did not. This was followed by those who had a bat and ball, (11 minutes), rollerskates (four minutes), swimming pool (three minutes), active video game (three minutes) and a basketball hoop (two minutes).

Ms Dumuid said the findings in relation to devices with screens in the bedroom were significant.

“Children without access to basic sports equipment like balls and bats tend to get less physical activity than their peers — it averages to about 11 minutes less physical activity per day, and up to 12 minutes less per day if children don’t own a bicycle,’’ she said.

“Screens appear to be a particular concern if they are located in children’s bedrooms.

“Children with TVs or video games in their bedrooms had 30-42 minutes more screen time per day compared to other children.

“The study suggests that children with screens in their bedroom are spending less time in non-screen sedentary activities such as reading, writing or face-to-face communication with their friends and family.’’

Ms Dumuid said not all sedentary behaviour was undesirable because it included homework and interaction with people, and not all screen time was bad.

“Not all screens are equally evil, however, with current research looking at how to use social media and even the Pokemon GO craze to increase children’s physical activity levels,” she said.

Mother of three children, including one in Year 5, Natalie Still, said the findings coincided with the ways she had seen her children interacting for activity and screen time.

Mrs Still said the children were very keen on backyard cricket, which required little expenditure except for replacing lost balls.

“We are also really busy with (organised) sport, but all kids love the screens,’’ she said.

Mrs Still said the focus on screen time in the family’s household was in the lounge room, except for her oldest son Zach, who had a computer in his bedroom for homework.

“Screens are very addictive, and we are aware of the problem of screens being in the bedroom, so we only have a TV in the living room and a computer in the living room and my son’s computer in the bedroom, but not for the internet.”

Originally published as Switch off and play for real

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