Category Archives: Technology, Device Use and Social Media

Smartphones and Children – pros and cons

children friend girls group playing internet with mobile smartphone on grass

A recent survey in America suggested that 56% of children between ages 10 and 13 own a smartphone. Even more shockingly, 25% of children between ages 2 and 5 also own a smartphone (Howley, 2013). In Australia, 68% of children between three and seventeen own a smartphone (Digital Life, 2015). Smartphones are fast replacing traditional toys such as lego, dolls and toy cars, with Australian children spending over 21 hours each week on these devices (Digital Life, 2015).

We all know about the dangers of social media and chat sites and the consequences of children engaging with cyber bullying and sex-ting. What we don’t know too much about is how smartphones are affecting childhood and their development. As smartphones and similar devices are relatively new technologies, the research is not yet conclusive. However, there are some concerns raised and some benefits noted for smartphone use with children.

Concerns about Smartphone use and children:

Concerns about smartphone use and children are largely associated with the impacts on children’s brains and development:

  • Children learn language skills, social skills, and emotional regulation skills by taking part in interactions with others, and observing real life communications between others. Over-reliance on screen technology greatly reduces the opportunities a child has to develop these essential life skills, and appears to have a detrimental effect on a child’s ability to read social nuances and cues.
  • Research suggests that technology use and screen time neglect certain areas of the brain that are used in traditional tasks such as reading and writing.
  • Whilst low in levels, radio frequencies from phones may be potentially harmful to developing brains. The temporal and frontal lobes of the brain are at most risk being closest to where a phone is held near the ear.
  • Concerns have also been raised about the illusion of multi-tasking. When children (and their parents and peers) are so engrossed in what is happening on the screen infront of them, they are missing information from all around them. This can be as simple as tripping over a paver while walking and looking at the phone, or as complex as missing out on bonding moments with others we are physically present with. Whilst we think we may be multi-tasking, we are not.

Basically, concerns about use of smartphones is associated with the premise that this type of technology use may be hampering the development of essential learning, social, communication, and emotion skills.


Read on here to see the Benefits of Smartphone use for children


Digital Life (2015). Kids’ smartphone usage rampant, says study. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from:
Howley, D.P. (2013). Children and Smartphones: What’s the Right Age? Laptop Part of Tom’s Guide. Retrieved from
Williams, A. (2015). How Do Smartphones Affect Childhood Psychology?. Psych Central. Retrieved from

Regular time together

5. Plan a regular block of time every day or every couple of days after school to do an activity WITH your child.

Changes Psychology school routinesDo something individually with your child, that doesn’t involve homework or getting ready for school or for bed every day. Even just 5 minutes a day together, without the use of electronic devices, can really help strengthen the parent-child relationship, as children often really look forward to it as part of their day.


It is even more difficult for working parents who often do not get home until 6 or 7pm at night, however this makes 5 minutes together even more valued. You might choose to spend this time doing something together for 5 minutes before you start the dinner and bed routines. Or you might choose to  spend it just before bed, engaging in a ‘quiet time’ activity. Some examples are reading a book together, working on a puzzle or research a topic that might involve looking up information on the internet. It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, it’s more the fact that parents do it TOGETHER with their child, and not simply direct them to go and do it while they do something on their own.

The research shows that the strength of the parent-child relationship, called attachment, is enhanced with small blocks of time, from 1 to 5 minutes, spent engaging positively with children on a regular and predictable schedule – at least once per day and at a similar time of the day so children learn to expect it. The more you spend these brief blocks of time engaging with your child, the more your relationship will develop with them! And it’s also a good way to help reduce the frequency and intensity of challenging behaviours, as connecting more with a child can only help to reduce the anxieties or emotions underlying their behaviours.


Helpful use of rewards

Many adults the satisfaction of getting the chores out of the way then taking some time to relax each day. It’s helpful to get kids into the same pattern and habit as well, with alot of practice. It is common for many families to run into challenges when they let children have their rewards (eg ipad or computer time) first. THEN request them to complete a chore or go to bed. In the same way your boss does not pay you before completing a week of work, try to avoid slipping into the habit of rewarding first then requesting actions from your child

4. Reward good behaviours more often than you punish inappropriate behaviours or remove privileges or punish

Changes Psychology school routine and rewardsPositive reinforcement in the form of rewards helps to promote and build new skills. While negative reinforcement and punishment aims to stop or reduce undesirable behaviours, but does not teach new and more appropriate behaviours. Also when overused negative reinforcement or punishments tend to result in the behaviours becoming more intense and frequent.

When thinking of positive rewards, natural rewards are some of the most powerful motivators for children and adults. These involve children getting more time on an activity they enjoy IMMEDIATELY AFTER they complete the less desirable routine tasks first. Pocket money and star charts etc are helpful extrinsic rewards if designed well, however these often involve children waiting to receive rewards. Whereas natural rewards are a form of positive reinforcement that are experienced immediately and are often more sustainable on a daily basis than giving money, food or toys.

It is also helpful to use other ‘delayed’ rewards such as star charts, pocket money or a special outing  during a week as well as natural and immediate rewards, as these help children experience the satisfaction of working towards goals and rewards.

Better Routines using Clocks, Timers, Calendars and Planners

Better routines begin with children learning how  time can be organised and then using tools to implement them.

Preschool and early school classrooms make great use of clocks and calendars: changing the hands, showing days of the week, month, season, even monitoring the weather. Most schools also use visual and auditory timers like bells to mark time during the day. As children mature and are expected to take on more responsibilities for their own time management, planners and to-do lists become extremely beneficial.

You can help children become more independent with their routines through the use of clocks, timers, calendars and planners to help teach them the concept of time and sequencing in everyday life. You can try:

  • Having clocks where they can be clearly seen and referred to during the day. Analog clocks are better than digital clocks as they show that time moves (with the movement of the hands).
  • Making a visual timeline for the day at home and school, marking each event with a picture of the hands on the clock at that time and the time written numerically.
  • Encouraging the use of a watch if you child is willing to wear one. Again analog is preferred as your child can see time moving. Changes Psychology child with watch
  • Practising telling the time with your child in different ways, e.g. “six thirty”, “half past six”
  • Using count-down visual and/or auditory timers for specific tasks eg sand timers or the ‘time timer’ app. You can make this fun by playing “beat the bell” where your child has to complete their task before the timer ends.Using calendars to organise family life and after school activities. Calendars can make great use of visual learning (seeing a record of events), auditory learning (talking about the events that have happened or are coming up), and kinesthetic learning (writing down events or crossing them off when done).
  • Using daily or weekly to-do lists or planners. At the end of each day, encourage your child to cross off activities from that day, then discuss activities involved in the next day.


Changes Psychology Visual time plannerRemember time is an abstract concept – we can’t actually touch or see it. Using calendars, planners, and lists makes time more tangible by highlighting events and activities which your child can personally relate to.


Promote your child’s sense of responsibility by encouraging them to refer to the calendar or planner rather than relying on you to tell them what is happening each day.  




Read more: Helping your ADHD child understand time and organise- Prioritising activities and estimating time needs

Build Lego Outside..with boxes and stuff

Can’t get the kids outside? Build Giant lego with boxes

Build your own giant Lego structures outside- Developing your kids’ spatial awareness, motor skills and creativity.


Take whatever boxes you have in the house, or gather up some over a day from friends that have moved, or from shops that don’t need them or by finally unpacking those last 6 boxes you never did. Gather toilet rolls, milk bottles,  felt pens, sticky tape and whatever else you can think of that might work. Take them and some comfy blankets outside with your kids.

Changes Psychology outside boxes

Building with blocks (Lego or otherwise) encourages spatial awareness, improves cognitive function and  improves motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Building on a bigger scale, building with boxes, does all this as well as being SO MUCH MORE FUN. Encouraging creativity with less boundaries.

You can guide this play into so many different areas, and smaller children will need this as they may be overwhelmed by what they are in fact doing outside with these things. Most kids who’ve been to day-care though will understand the unsaid brief and the fun that can be had.

Changes Psychology Minecraft boxesEncourage and assist with a house build for their favourite stuffed toys; create a shop where they will sell invisible
goods to you; build a robot or a statue of you. Parents should definitely have more statues of themselves built.

Make a dog kennel, a cubby; a castle; a forest; cars and petrol stations; trains and bridges; Optimus Prime or Steve from Minecraft…whatever your kids might be inspired to make with some guidance and help from you.


After they’ve been built, decorating can occur, or balls can be thrown to knock things down or giants can smash them, or they can be lovingly kept for the warmer part of the next day.

It doesn’t take expensive equipment or a paid educator to create fun for you and your kids that helps them develop skills and learn whilst they play.

Give the Kid a Camera!

Give your kids a photo quest and the old snap and shoot digital camera, or your old phone, and see what they come up with!

In this digital age 10 photos to get someone’s head on right, or 30 blurry shots to get one good one is no big deal. Even better, seeing what kids come up with with a camera is often seeing the world in a whole different way.

Changes Psychology Camera funFirst of all, make sure they know how to use the camera or device they are using, and if it’s your actual phone, turn off msg notifications etc. Nothing like a twitter message of inappropriate language popping up!

Using a real camera might be a new experience, though most kids can use an iphone camera it seems. Buttons need to be found and pushed, and even just holding it right is something they need to learn.

Kids cameras are cheap now, but so are small point and shoot digitals. If they like this activity, consider getting them an inexpensive one of their own.

So they’ve worked out the camera.

Rather than pointing them outside and seeing what happens, create a quest, or a challenge to focus them, so to speak.

Send them outside with a half hour to take pics of as many white things as they can find, or things starting with L, or for older kids perhaps give them an idea to capture like “winter” or “small”, or find one thing each for the letters of their name. You can ask for a task from them and do the activity too.

If you feel like a bigger task, especially for older kids and one you have to take part in, go out the day before and take a whole lot of macro-close up shots of things outside. Print out the pics and have them them on display outside. They have to find and take a bigger pic of what they think it might be.

After, upload their pics to the laptop, or even better, use whatever amazing digital age ways you can to get them on the TV. Give them an album on your facebook page, or print them out and make something great for Nana. They’ll be pretty excited to see their photos on a bigger screen.

They’ll be interpreting the world in their own way, using all sorts of fine motor and cognitive skills and learning a little about photography. And they’ll BE OUTSIDE!

Changes Psychology Camera outside

Communicating with your ex: Communication Books and Apps

Communication books were probably born out of our age of parenting plans and court orders and legal obligations to keep other parents in the loop.

A  notebook or diary is passed from parent to parent keeping track of what happened whilst they were away. Regardless of why they came about, they are a really good idea, whether you get along with your ex or not. They are great for non tech parents and ones who would rather write than talk. Don’t expect essays from parents who never wrote before you broke up, but it’s a good way to keep to the facts. Communicating the important information with your ex is the goal.

A yearly diary format is also great for keeping track of schedules, appointments, and for writing down new events for the other parent. Medicare numbers, education Id’s, school absence line numbers, Important phone numbers, school contacts, other kids parents, sports coaches numbers can also be kept in here, avoiding unnecessary contact.

If you haven’t tried it and your communication lines are still blurry or disconnected, maybe give it a shot. Importantly, it is essential either NOTHING a child shouldn’t read gets written in there, or you agree to physically pass it to each other without the child playing messenger.

Parenting or Family organisation Apps Changes Psychology example of family organisation app

Used once again originally for fulfillment of court orders etc, they have moved into use by even very together families for ways of communicating between parents during their busy lives. Most importantly, both parents, separated or together have access to the information at the same time.

As with email or texting, a digital communication technique should not open the floodgates for angry online exchanges as can occur when people have a wall to hide behind. Apps and other digitial communication can be awesome tools as long as both parents use them well.

Have a look at a couple of these apps like



Our Family Wizard

However it’s done, keep on trying to communicate with your ex about your child, especially when you both have that child for periods of time. This extends to step parents and grand-parents that may care for them too. It’s one of the best things you can do to help your child adapt to co-parenting and to feel like all of you know, and care about, what’s happening in their life .


Parenting Problems: How to reduce screen time battles

Changes Psychology Intense gaming boyThe best way to manage child screen rage is to avoid it in the first place.


Easier said than done, we know!


Here are some tips on how to promote healthy screen time in your household so both you and your children are clear about the expectations and boundaries when using electronic devices such as TVs, computers, video games, phones or tablets.

  • When introducing screen time to a young child, consider how it will be used, when it can be used to best assist your family dynamic and routine, and set time frames and conditions at the very early stages so that children know the rules and boundaries. It is also useful to determine the purpose of computer or device use: is it for homework, social networking or entertainment?
  • Avoid using electronic devices with babies and young toddlers as sitting still looking at a green, even those proposing to be educational, limits the opportunities to explore the child’s real immediate world through movement (crawling, walking), play, using the full range of eye movement, and engaging in social interactions with others (Australian Government Department of Health and Aging, 2010).
  • Use other motivators – Try to offer rewards and punishments that are unrelated to screen use as too much focus on screen time can increase a child’s interest and desire to use screens. If you must use TV/computer/iPad time as a motivator, consider offering it as just one of several rewards your kids can choose from.
  • Set up time limits for use and help with transitions – having these limits clearly set out BEFORE screen use will reduce the likelihood of arguments later. Helping kids move onto another activity WITH you, initially, will assist them to focus on the next thing rather than get stuck on the idea of needing the screen, e.g. “C’mon let’s go brush your teeth together, then you can pick a story”.
  • Help kids keep track of the time frames and give warnings before the time frames end. Use visual and/or auditory timers, alarms, daily routine lists, or refer to daily events like “now until dinner”. Some devices allow you to set time periods for use or there are even Apps available to allow remote shutdown of devices.
  • Don’t engage in discussion, arguing or attempted persuading when time’s done. Children and adolescents need boundaries, even when they don’t like them, and if you stick to those boundaries, kids learn pretty quickly that screen rage doesn’t change your mind.
  • Remove electronic devices from easy access to kids during the night or at inappropriate times if they are likely to be tempted- putting all devices on charge in a certain area at a certain time for example, and turning off the TV at a certain time.
  • Get active – some of the greatest concerns about screen use in children is in regard to the sedentary nature of activities associated with screens (TV being the worst offender)(Okely, et al., 2012) but many devices these days allow activity and social play, such as Wii and Xbox games. So encourage kids to be active during screen use – play tennis or a soccer game, or white water rafting…. Changes Psychology Family away path
  • Find other things your kids love to do, with you, and alone. Help kids find alternatives to the PS4 or the DVD player that they’ll like just as much both indoors and outside. These activities can be quiet (e.g. reading) or active (e.g. jumping on trampoline).
  • Establish device free times and spaces where screens including the TV are turned off, such as mealtimes and in bed. This means parents have to stay off their screens too!
  • Challenge your family to have no screen time for one week. Replace that time with family time, time with friends, or fun activities.


Screen rage is a phenomenon that is becoming all-too-familiar in modern families. Setting up expectations and clear guidelines about appropriate screen use is the best way to prevent the emotional and behavioural meltdowns our kids experience when the end of screen time is imposed by adults.

For babies, toddlers and younger children, parents determine the boundaries around screen use and ensure they adhered to. As children grow older, their use of screens increases as they add academic and social aspects in addition to entertainment.

Parents should still monitor screen use with older children and adolescents, however, you can involve your children in setting the boundaries and expectations so they feel they have contributed to the screen use rules and are more likely to follow them.
If screen rage continues to be an issue within your family, seek professional help. We offer a free phone consultation with our psychologists, and individualised psychological support to best meet the needs of you and your children.


Australian Government Department of Health and Aging. Move and Play Every Day. National Physical Activity Recommendations for Children 0–5 Years. Canberra: Australia: Commonwealth of Australia Department of Health and Aging; 2010.
Duch, H., Fisher, E.M, Ensari, I., & Harrington, A. (2013). Screen time use in children under 3 years old: a systematic review of correlates. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 10: 102. Retrieved from
Houghton, S., Hunter, S.C., Rosenberg, M, Wood, L., Zadow, C., Martin, K, & Shilton, T. (2015). Virtually impossible: limiting Australian children and adolescents daily screen based media use. BMC Public Health, 15:5. Retrieved from
Kaneshiro, N. (2013). Screentime and children. Retrieved from
Okely AD, Salmon J, Vella SA, Cliff D, Timperio A, Tremblay M, Trost SG, Shilton T, Hinkley T, Ridgers N, Phillipson L, Hesketh K, Parrish A-M, Janssen X, Brown M, Emmel J, Marino N.(2012). A Systematic Review to inform the Australian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Young People. Report prepared for the Australian Government Department of Health, June 2012. Canberra: Australia.
Rosen, L.D. (2012). iDisorder: Understanding our obsession with technology and overcoming its hold on us. Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire, UK.

Screen time without the Scream Time

boy at table 2 smartphonesOne factor influencing our children’s use of screen time is our own behaviour. Grown ups need to model good screen time use.

Yes this is REALLY hard, but your kids will learn how to use screens well and wisely by following your lead.



Try limiting your use of screens when with your family to a maximum of two hours per day (Kaneshiro, 2013) and spend the rest of the time engaging with your loved ones and the real world.


The following questions can help you establish guidelines for screen use within your own household:

  • is it a reward or an expected part of the day?
  • is time scheduled for it and do children, and adults, have time limits?
  • are games and activities known and monitored for appropriateness?
  • is screen use balanced with other activities and family time?
  • are access to devices and screen time controlled by the grown ups in the house?
  • are appropriate transitions being used when screen time should end


Remember that a child will model their behaviour more on what you do than what you say:

  • monitor yourself for your behaviour whilst gaming and act appropriately
  • be aware of how you use social media and digital tools for work during family time
  • if there are family rules in place for everyone’s digital use, make sure you follow them too


Read more: Reduce screen time battles- PLAN AHEAD

Screen Time Rage!

Changes Psychology Intense gaming boyScreen Time Rage, or Screen Rage, is a relatively new concept being used to describe the reactive behaviours of children and adolescents commonly seen when their electronic entertainment device of choice is disrupted or ends.

It is also known as Ipad Irateness, Tv Turn off Tornado, Xbox Xplosion, DS Destruction, and the Screen Crazies amongst other things. Screen time is any time spent using an electronic device with a screen that we watch or interact with (Houghton, et al., 2015). These include, but are not limited to TV, laptops/computers, mobile phones, tablets, smart phones, ipod touch, playstations, Xbox, and even iwatches.

The amazing array of screens available today, and the accessibility of such devices gives children (and adults) access to the wider world that has never been experienced in generations before. The use of electronic devices for entertainment, social and academic purposes is so much a part of our kids’ lives now that negative behaviour and family tensions relating to the use of them is on every parent’s mind, and it is an increasing problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Why are these “screen time rages” so distinct and difficult to stop?

Screen time is psychologically a very attractive thing: Screen devices provide children with stimuli that is both highly visually and auditorily appealing  (Rosen, 2012). It rewards us in a way that is difficult to replicate in the “real world” as it:

  • usually involves a great deal of attention and focus, requiring varied parts of the brain to be active or inactive.
  • engages through colour, movement, lighting, sound, and dialogue that appeals to what children like and how they think.
  • is ingrained in just about every aspect of life including entertainment, socialising and learning.
  • provides immediate rewards which reinforces the desire to engage in further screen time.


All of these characteristics make the appeal of screen time very powerful, especially for children and adolescents. However, screen time can cause problems if over-used or used inappropriately.

Research suggests that excessive screen time in children is linked to negative health outcomes including obesity, poor language development, cognitive impairments, mood disorders, social skills deficients, sleep difficulties, and increases in risk-taking behaviours (Duch, Fisher, Ensari & Harington, 2013; Okely, et al., 2012). However, there is much debate as to just how much time kids should be spending infront of screens.
Recommendations by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (2010; Okely, et al., 2012) are that children younger than 2 years old have no screen time, children 2-5 years old spend less than one hour each day in front of screens, and children aged 5 and above spend a maximum of two hours engaged in screen time. However, recent research suggests such recommendations are too restrictive given the extent that technology is saturated into our daily lives, they do not account for the increasing use of screens for educational purposes, and that a large percentage of Australian children and adolescents use screens for well over these daily recommendations (Houghton, et al., 2015).

Read more: Screen Time without the Scream Time


Australian Government Department of Health and Aging. Move and Play Every Day. National Physical Activity Recommendations for Children 0–5 Years. Canberra: Australia: Commonwealth of Australia Department of Health and Aging; 2010.
Duch, H., Fisher, E.M, Ensari, I., & Harrington, A. (2013). Screen time use in children under 3 years old: a systematic review of correlates. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 10: 102. Retrieved from
Houghton, S., Hunter, S.C., Rosenberg, M, Wood, L., Zadow, C., Martin, K, & Shilton, T. (2015). Virtually impossible: limiting Australian children and adolescents daily screen based media use. BMC Public Health, 15:5. Retrieved from
Kaneshiro, N. (2013). Screentime and children. Retrieved from
Okely AD, Salmon J, Vella SA, Cliff D, Timperio A, Tremblay M, Trost SG, Shilton T, Hinkley T, Ridgers N, Phillipson L, Hesketh K, Parrish A-M, Janssen X, Brown M, Emmel J, Marino N.(2012). A Systematic Review to inform the Australian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Young People. Report prepared for the Australian Government Department of Health, June 2012. Canberra: Australia.
Rosen, L.D. (2012). iDisorder: Understanding our obsession with technology and overcoming its hold on us. Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire, UK.