Screen Time

Stella James from Gooseberry Planet shares her thoughts on the impact of screen time on children.

For some time, there have been concerns about the growing amount of time that children and young people are spending on screens and the possible effects of this.  In February, the United Kingdom Chief Medical Officers’ commentary on ‘Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being: a systematic map of reviews’ was published, including advice for parents and carers. Click here for full article.

The review acknowledges that “many factors affect mental health and it can be difficult to disentangle these factors from any effect caused by screen or social media use” but that “[A]n association has been seen between those who engage in screen-based activities more frequently and/or over longer periods, and mental health problems” p 4.  It also acknowledges that “some activities are strongly associated with healthy development, such as good quality, regular sleep and quality time spent with families [and that] these and many other factors supersede screen time in their importance for ensuring the best start in life” p 6.

It concludes that a precautionary approach to screen time is wise but “this needs to be balanced … against the potential benefits that CYP [Children and Young People] can derive from their screen-based activities” p 5.  It encourages parents and carers to agree boundaries with their children regarding the time they spend using screens and also to lead by example, by avoiding excessive screen use themselves in front of their children.

They also recommend addressing the following questions produced by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health:

  • Is your family’s screen time under control?
  • Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
  • Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  • Are you able to control snacking during screen time? p 9.

A poster included in the review has “tips for balancing screen use with healthy living” as follows:

Sleep matters

Getting enough, good quality sleep is very important. Leave phones outside the bedroom when it is bedtime.

Education matters

Make sure you and your children are aware of, and abide by, their school’s policy on screen time.

Safety when out and about

Advise children to put their screens away while crossing the road or doing an activity that needs their full attention.

Family time together

Screen-free meal times are a good idea – you can enjoy face-to-face conversation, with adults giving their full attention to children.

Sharing sensibly

Talk about sharing photos and information online and how photos and words are sometimes manipulated. Parents and carers should never assume that children are happy for their photos to be shared. For everyone – when in doubt, don’t upload!

Keep moving!

Everyone should take a break after a couple of hours sitting or lying down using a screen. It’s good to get up and move about a bit. #sitlessmovemore

Talking helps

Talk with children about using screens and what they are watching. A change in behaviour can be a sign they are distressed – make sure they know they can always speak to you or another responsible adult if they feel uncomfortable with screen or social media use.

Use helpful phone features

Some devices and platforms have special features – try using these features to keep track of how much time you (and with their permission, your children) spend looking at screens or on social media”.



Extracts from this report have been reproduced under the Open Government Licence v3.0 and we acknowledge the report authors:  Davies S.C., Atherton F.,Calderwood C., McBride M. United Kingdom Chief Medical Officers’ commentary on ‘Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being: a systematic map of reviews’.  Department of Health and Social Care (2019).  This does not and is not intended to suggest that the Government endorses Gooseberry Planet Ltd or its commentary on the report.

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