Screen use could be damaging to children

Depression, obesity, short-sightedness, cancer … it seems every other week there’s a report on how screen time is adversely affecting children. And then the next report contradicts them all! It can leave parents wondering just what the real effects are and what is considered to be safe.

Long-term study of screen time

A new study from the National Institutes of Health in the USA is reported to be the first long-term investigation into how screen time affects the structure of children’s brains and if their is an addictive nature. Whilst the study is still ongoing, the preparation data has already suggested that more than two hours of screen time a day could do damage.

The study is following 11,000 children, currently aged 9 to 10 years old) for an entire decade. The childrens’ use of digital screens like smartphones, video games, and tablets will be monitored to determine how their use can affect a child’s developing brain, their emotional development and mental health.

Analysis of initial brain scans of the participants show that those children who spend more than seven hours a day on screens experience “premature thinning of the cortex,” says one of the study’s authors in an interview with 60 Minutes. Children who have more than two hours of screen time a day achieved lower scores on thinking and language tests.

However, researchers say that it is too early to determine if screen time is the cause of the cortex results – or even if it is a bad thing.

Transferrable skills

According to lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics most recent screen-time guidelines, Dr Dimitri Christaki, young children don’t know how to translate two-dimensional skills learned on a screen to the real, three-dimensional world. For instance, building with virtual blocks on a screen, is not a transferrable skill and a child who then plays with real blocks will have to start over with tactile learning.

Read more from the 60 Minutes report here.

To find out more about the study, visit

Screen time recommendations

The NZ Ministry of Health recommends no more than two hours per day of recreational screen time for kids aged five and up.

The American Academy of Pediatrics most recent recommendations are for no more than one hour of screen time for children aged two to five. The Academy stresses the importance of face-to-face communication and suggests no screen time for under 2s. For older children and teens, they caution against too much screen time, but without a specific time limit. Previously they had also recommended a maximum of two hours per day but reviewed their recommendations apparently due to the varied nature of screen use, especially in augmented learning.

Worried about your child’s screen time?

If you are at all worried about your child’s screen usage, online safety advocates Netsafe suggest that parents consider the following:

  • Is excessive internet use affecting their sleep?
  • Is excessive internet use affecting the quality of their schoolwork?
  • Has their behaviour changed?
  • Do they become angry or even aggressive if you try to limit their time online?
  • Are they spending so much time online that other hobbies are becoming less important?

If negative effects are resulting from their screen time, setting limits or reducing existing limits may be an option for parents. Netsafe have tips for screen time strategies using both parenting techniques and technology solutions.

Does your child’s screen time concern you? Do you find it difficult to restrict use?

This article was written by Julie Scanlon, Editor for Kidspot NZ.

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