The perils of screen time- how much is too much?!

The perils of screen time- how much is too much?!

If I had a dollar for every time I supported a family through dealing with sleeping issues, then I’d almost have enough to retire from OT on! The message that I can’t seem to stress enough is in relation to screen time. And it’s not just a sleeping issue; the effects of excessive amounts of time spent in front of the television, on the computer, playing game consoles and using tablets or phones can adversely affect physical, behavioural, emotional and psychological development.

This controversial topic is certainly not a new debate, but perhaps the prevalence of screen technologies and lifestyle changes has led to a general increase in the amount of screen time consumed. There’s no doubting that the use of tablets for children has exploded in the last few years, and by no means am I discounting their educational and communication purposes. Likewise, there’s no dispute over the fact that family lifestyles are relatively faster and busier compared to last decade. There’s increased pressure to get more things achieved in the day, and there’s no doubting the convenience of screen technologies to occupy children. But how much is too much?

Professional opinions are varied, with some recommending that children under 2 have no screen time at all, but the general consensus seems to be no more than 2 hours per day. By the time you add up your child’s favourite television shows, plus the time you let your child play on your phone whilst you have coffee with friends, plus the computer games they play, plus the homework and activities they do on their computer/tablet, plus the time they spend flicking through music and playing apps on their iPods at night, it doesn’t take long to surpass the recommended 2 hour maximum.





A recent Canadian research article highlights developmental consequences such as delayed language development, aggressive behaviour, cigarette smoking (interestingly enough!) and obesity. The link between screen time and obesity is a no-brainer: screen time activities are sedentary. Being sedentary for hours at a time is not only linked to obesity, but other health problems such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Furthermore, watching television has also been proven to be linked with unhealthy eating habits. Not to mention, that screen time is nowhere near as stimulating for the mind as physical activity or just plain old exploring the environment! Another important physical impact of screen time (and the reason why I chose to write this blog in the first place) is the issue it causes with sleep. A recent study showed that screen time in the 90 minutes leading up to bedtime caused difficulty in falling asleep and reduce overall sleep time in children. The bright light emitted from screens can disrupt the circadian rhythm (i.e.. body clock) and cause increased arousal, which is the last thing you need when trying to get your child to sleep! And there’s more than just a physical impact. According to BBC news, prolonged screen time can lead to reductions in attention span due to its affect on the brain chemical, dopamine and can create ‘screen addiction’.

Limiting your child’s total daily screen time can be challenging. Watching certain television shows may be a part of their routine, or they may associate certain shows with certain activities (such as always watching Play School whilst eating breakfast, or having to go to bed after In The Night Garden has finished). They may get to use their tablets (eg. iPad) as one of their ‘quiet time’ activities in their bedtime routine. Here’s a few suggestions to how you can help to reduce your child’s screen time:

  • Remove all sources of screen time from your child’s bedroom, including (but not limited to) televisions and computers. The bedroom should be associated purely with sleeping (this also includes avoiding using the bedroom as a place where children are sent for punishment).
  • Turn all screens off whilst eating, this includes snacks as well as mealtimes.
  • Turn off screens whilst getting ready in the morning.
  • For every minute in front of the screen, try and do a minute of physical activity.
  • Get your children to ‘earn’ screen time minutes through a reward system.
For more ideas on how to limit screen time, visit the Raising Children Network or speak to an OT at Occupational Therapy For Children


  • vered ohayon-hughes
    Posted at 04:33h, 02 March Reply

    as a parent for two ‘kids’ on the spectrum, i totally, with deep concern, agree with the content. It is indeed a difficult and an extra challenging ‘issue’ to work with/on! i have just copy that ‘note’ for my asd/h.f son to read… , as one of our agreemet of ply time is a reading breaks! no, it is not as easy, and it is quite concerning, consedering that reading was one of is most loved activities…
    thank you for sharing.

  • Deb Nurton
    Posted at 08:33h, 04 March Reply

    Last night my boys had trouble getting off to sleep, so much so that we all ended up sleeping in the family room together so I could get some sleep! Sure enough, they’d been allowed to play a new Mario game they’d bought for the Wii that day (a Sunday) with vouchers they’d received as birthday presents, and we’d let them play, unusually so, until 830.
    However, here comes the tricky thing. The older had physics homework he had to complete in the afternoon, and so we were faced with “Get your homework done before you have play time” and have later than usual wii time, or let them go on the wii earlier and face the consequence that perhaps the homework would not get finished.
    This is where it all becomes too hard, and parents just do the best they can.
    Of course, the three hours of physics homework was screen time too, making it impossible!
    We parents of children with different learning needs are already under the hammer, and spend more time than other parents in fostering our children’s learning, working around lack of organisation, advocating for them at school and with parents of their friends, researching, attending appointments etc etc etc. Screen time whilst I am making tea is the only thing that keeps me sane. So the “2 hours a day” sounds great for regular families, but really, what’s an achievable amount for us non-regular families, when kids are already in front of their computers for more than 2 hours, simply at school?

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