Report Calls For Screen Time Guidelines for Children

We Need To Talk Screentime Front CoverMedia Release 9 February 2015
A report on the increasing use of screen time for children is critical of government agencies for a lack of guidelines to families, and says that the Ministry of Health should consider screen time as a personal health and well-being issue to be formally included in the health education curriculum and taught in the classroom from primary school.

The Report “WE NEED TO TALK – Screen time in NZ, Media Use: An Emerging factor in child and adolescent health” by biologist / psychologist Dr Aric Sigman says that although screen technology may be a beneficial aspect of modern life, there is growing concern from health and development experts about the disproportionate use in many families’ lives, particularly the young in New Zealand.

“Parents, children and teachers remain unaware of the medical and developmental risks and the position of medical bodies on discretionary screen time. And the majority of children and adolescents in New Zealand, including toddlers, continue to significantly exceed medical guidelines,” says Dr Sigman.

“Yet the ages at which children start viewing screens and the number of hours watched per day is increasingly linked to negative physiological changes, medical conditions and development outcomes including significant sleep disturbances, attention problems and impulsiveness, and children are more susceptible to developing a long-term problematic dependency on technology.”

Dr Sigman makes a number of recommendations for governments, schools and parents, including:

  • health professionals in New Zealand should consider incorporating the topic of media use and health into their dealings with families.
  • when considering any evidence on child screen use presented to them, policy makers should be highly vigilant in ensuring a high degree of ‘information hygiene’ and establish whether screen-related industries have played any part in such research.
  • parents should minimise screen media in children’s bedrooms, and establish clear rules and limits

The report was commissioned by family group Family First NZ in response to admissions to Family First from the Ministry of Health that they have only provided guidelines for screen time use outside of school time – (a maximum of two hours per day for 5-18 year olds) – and no guidelines at all for under 5’s or to the Ministry of Education or to ECE’s. The Ministry of Education told Family First: “It is up to individual schools to decide the extent to which they will use digital technology to support teaching and learning”, and “The Ministry has not undertaken specific research on appropriate amounts of daily screen time for young people.”

Dr Sigman has written extensively on the issue. His paper ‘Time for a view on screen time’ was published as the leading article in the British Medical Journals’ Archives of Disease in Childhood. His latest paper ‘Virtually Addicted: why general practice must now confront screen dependency’ is published in Britain’s Royal College of General Practitioners’ British Journal of General Practice. He has published three papers on various aspects of screen time, physiology and health outcomes in The Biologist, the journal of the Society of Biology, and was invited to address the European Parliament Working Group on the Quality of Childhood in the European Union in Brussels on the impact of electronic media and screen dependency.