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Screen overload: screen time affecting kids' health

09 Feb 15

A new report on the increasing use of screen time for children has criticised government agencies for a lack of guidelines to families.

The report says the Ministry of Health should consider screen time as a personal health and well-being issue, and should be formally included in the health education curriculum, 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 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,” he says. “And the majority of children and adolescents in New Zealand, including toddlers, continue to significantly exceed medical guidelines.”

“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,” he explains.

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 5s or to the Ministry of Education or to ECEs. 

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.”

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