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Raising children comes with a unique set of challenges. As parents, keeping our children safe, healthy and happy is paramount and with their continual growth and development, achieving our goal can be a learning curve for both parent and child. Today we are talking about emotional and behavioural difficulties and how screen time could be a contributing factor.

Many young children have tantrums and exhibit a range of behaviours, both good and bad, as they navigate the world and learn what’s right and wrong. Inability to manage emotions, being disruptive and aggressive behaviour are all common in children under three. We all know that toddler who’s a biter!

It is when these tantrums persist into adolescence and more aggressive, anti-social behaviours prevail that it may be time to intervene.

Signs of a Problem

Many emotional and behavioural issues are short-lived and are a normal part of a child’s development. When a child does not seem to be moving on from these behaviours though, it could be a sign of a more serious emotional and behavioural issue.

Emotional and behavioural difficulties come in many forms but are often broken down into conditions such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Response Ability, an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Health, advises that signs of emotional or behavioural difficulties include:

  • Significant changes in behaviour
  • Different behaviour to peers (similar age and stage)
  • Severe separation/attachment problems
  • Persistent withdrawn, scared, upset or anxious behaviour
  • Temper, aggression and inability to manage frustration/anger
  • Short attention span, unable to focus on tasks or follow instructions
  • Frequent defiance

What to do

It’s easy to become concerned when it comes to our children’s wellbeing. And whilst it’s good to monitor your child’s behaviour, determining whether behaviour you’re concerned about is considered ‘normal’ for their age or stage of development is a good first step.

After considering this, if you are still concerned you should:

  • Observe your child at different times of the day, doing different tasks
  • Write down examples of the behaviour and when it occurs
  • Consult your GP. Your GP is your first port of call and will perform an initial assessment to determine whether further assessment and treatment is needed

Too much screen time?

Although the causes behind emotional and behavioural difficulties are not fully known, there are three areas that are considered contributing factors to such childhood problems; genetics, home life and school life.

Biology, and a pre-disposition for emotional and behavioural difficulties, is obviously not something we can change. But implementing things at home life could be steps towards reducing the likelihood of these difficulties in your child.

Limiting screen time

Most of us would expect that an unhappy home (domestic abuse, instability, poverty, etc.) would contribute towards emotional and behavioural difficulties but recent studies have also shown that your child’s tech use could be a factor that exacerbates an underlying disorder.

Excessive screen time has been linked to a multitude of issues in children including sleep disruption, lack of exercise and overstimulation. Many of these issues, in turn, give way to aggressive behaviour, mood disturbance, irritability and cognitive problems.

Screen Time Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently produced its recommendations for screen time for children.

  • Less than 18 months: NO screen time except video chatting
  • 18 months – 2 years: introduction of high quality digital media with parental supervision, interaction and explanation
  • 2-5 years: screen time limited to less than one hour per day
  • 6 years and older: consistent daily limits on screen time and ensuring it does not replace sleep and physical play