Yesterday I wrote a blog about screen time. Completely coincidentally, I was asked to speak on Premier’s News Hour (a radio station) today in response to the story that sky news ran on the link between screen time and depression and anxiety in children. This is the link to the story: http://news.sky.com/story/1133887/video-games-and-tv-make-children-depressed.
The main line of the story is that, “Children who spend too much time watching television or playing computer games could be at a higher risk of anxiety and depression”. This was concluded by a report made by Public Health England. The report supports the conclusions of a plethora of rigorous scientific studies: that there is a link between time spent in front of screens and lower levels of wellbeing amongst children.
Studies clearly show us that higher levels of screen time are linked to lower self-worth, lower self-esteem and lower levels of self-reported happiness.I must make the point that watching TV and playing video and computer games do not single handedly cause depression and anxiety. The causes of depression and anxiety are complex and multifunctional. We see from our work with children, teens and families that it is the lack of what screen time is replacing which is the biggest cause for concern. It is routine in many homes to have the TV on in the background all day, every day. Parents are under increasing pressure, so very often the TV or screen time is used to distract children or as a babysitter so as parents can get chores done or work from home.
There are many programmes and games which are not detrimental to children, and of course the content suitability is an individual family preference. There are few, however, which are actually beneficial.
The problems come from when screen time replaces activity. Recreational screen time isn’t recommended for daily use and, if it is viewed daily, should ideally be under 20% of time spent engaging in physical exercise or outdoor play. That means that if your child watches 15 minutes of TV, they should be spending over an hour outside playing or engaging in physical exercise. Children who engage in more physical activity are much more likely to be able to concentrate better in school, have a better quality of relationship with peers and have better self-reports of relationships within families. Children who engage in more physical activity also display lower levels of worry, anxiety and depression.
We do know that children who spend more time on computers and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional disturbance, anxiety and depression. Computer and video game time is different to watching TV. Children who watch more TV tend to have lower performance in school, fewer social skills, much poorer communication skills and lower emotional resilience.
From our work with children and families, we recommend NO screen time for under twos. We recommend that any child who does watch TV or have screen time does so for a maximum of half hour a day. We also recommend that for every ten minutes of screen time, the child has a concentrated period of thirty minutes one to one social interaction with an adult who chats with them and plays. This doesn’t have to be a traditional game or small world play. It can simply be putting the washing away or emptying the dishwasher together.
Check back over the next few Mondays for our blogs on the relationship between screen time and ADHD, gaming and teenagers, viewing of screen time violence and depression/anger in teenagers,sleep in teenagers and much more