Children and Screen Time – What You Need to Know

May 14, 2023

STANZ organised for Michael Vaughan (Registered Psychologist) to travel to Christchurch in Mid-March to give a talk on what we need to know about the risks and challenges in dealing with children and screen time. He gave a very engaging and informative presentation covering these main topics:

• What’s happening with our children – which issues am I seeing more often in my Private Practice work with children?
• Children’s increased screen time – should we be worried? What are the psychological and physical effects?
• Guidelines to help you navigate through the screen time challenge.

Some of the key issues is that children feel that they are under pressure 24/7 unlike previous generations:

• Children used to be able to ‘switch off’ after school.
• Home used to be a ‘safe haven’ (for most children anyway).
• Now, connected to internet during most of their waking hours.
• Children say they feel pressured and overwhelmed.
• Feel guilty if unable to respond to messages right away.
• Feel anxious if access to messaging becomes constrained.

We found out that the Ministry of Health has some guidelines:

• Zero recreational screen time for children under 2.
• Less than an hour per day for kids aged 2 to 5, and fewer than two hours per day of passive screen time for those aged 5 to 17.
• Yet, M.O.H. surveys find those guidelines are being exceeded by nearly 90 per cent of children younger than 14.

Turns out that too much screen time can have adverse psychological and physical effects on children:

From their review of the literature, the authors conclude that: “Constant exposure to devices like smartphones, personal computers, and television can severely affect mental health – increase stress and anxiety, for example, and cause various sleep issues in both children as well as adults.”

While there are benefits from some screen time too much can have negative effects:

• Headaches, eye strain, impaired vision, dry eyes, and irritation.
• According to research, being in an outside environment stimulates the release of dopamine from the retina, which helps to prevent myopia.
• Spending time outside can largely eliminate factors contributing to the development of myopia, e.g. prolonged close work or screen viewing.
• The participating young subjects who played video games for more than 30 minutes per day reported headaches, vertigo, and eye strain.
• The dominant eye primarily experienced transient diplopia and refractive problems (such as short-sightedness), ultimately leading to vision loss.

Some advice provided from Michael on how to deal with children to limit their screen time included:

• Your child’s physical and psychological well-being is important…but so is your relationship.
• It’s a journey….drive carefully.
• Remember that denying access to devices can also be harmful.
• Set limits for younger children, discuss boundaries with teenagers in the context of their situation.
• Gain understanding of their needs and accommodate those needs when appropriate.
• Help them to use technology safely and productively.

• Focus on what children can do rather than what they can’t.
• Offer screen time on television or a computer, which tends to be at a further distance away.
• Intersperse screen time with playtime outside.
• Remember that limits should expand as your kids grow.
• Engage your child in other activities –listen to podcasts together, read together, play outdoor games, board games, cards etc.

It is well worth looking at the full presentation in the links below to get a better understanding of the issues and how to constructively deal with them. Hopefully, in the near future we will be able to put together a video of the talk, but for now have a look at the presentation to become better informed on the risks and how to positively deal with them in regards to children.

PDF Version:

Power Point Version:

Michael was interviewed on this topic on Reality Check Radio by Paul Brennan at the end of May 2023. Listen to the interview here:

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