The impact of screen time on behaviour

This week, I wrote in my Thursday photo post that I had noticed a real link between Libby spending a small amount of time in front of a computer and a deterioration in her behaviour. 

I want to put a couple of things in context. Firstly, I’m not judging or criticising anyone for letting their children watch television or use iPads or other technology.

After all, I’m only writing this because I totally understand the need to use a screen to entertain children sometimes, because I did just that this week. 

The second thing I want to make clear is that Libby watched perhaps an hour of nursery rhymes (in a couple of sittings) on the computer one day, and maybe half an hour the next. 

That’s what raised my interest in the subject. Everything I read talks about quite large amounts of screen time. The general consensus seems to be that two hours or more of screen time will effect behaviour. 

This Independent article for example says that over four hours of screen time a day has been linked to depression, anxiety and limited social interaction. 

For me, this is glaringly obvious and in my opinion it has little to do with the screen time itself.  A child of school age probably wakes up in the morning, gets ready and goes to school.

They might get home from school at 4 pm and go to bed at 10 pm. During that time, if they spend four hours in front of a screen, they really won’t do much else.

So the issue in my mind actually revolves around what they don’t do, rather than what they do. 

But the problem I’m really interested in is the immediate link between an hour in front of something as harmless as nursery rhymes and an immediate deterioration in behaviour. 

2015-05-23 12.25.23

Enjoying the outdoors is something that is frequently lessened by excessive screen time.

I have spent quite a while researching this and there really isn’t anything conclusive. Different articles cite different research with different conclusions, but few focus on small amounts of television. 

There are articles like this one from the BBC, saying that excessive television as a toddler can effect a child in later life. But again, they refer to a “recommended maximum” of two hours of television per day.

To me, this is far too much, making the research of very little consequence to me.

Anecdotally, my good friend Maz who blogs at the Maz Shack told me that the powers that be in tech companies like Apple and Windows limit their children to an hour of screen time per day. 

Several people also shared stories of their own children having exhibited a change in behaviour when allowed more screen time. 

I understand – perhaps better than anybody – the need to use technology or any other means possible to keep children entertained so that us mum’s can get things done. 

For me, the problem is perhaps even more accentuated by the fact that I both work from home and look after the girls full time. 

As a general rule, when I need a few minutes to myself to have a shower and get ready to take them out in the mornings, I put them in their cots with a book. 

The other day, as it was half term and we were in no rush, I let Libby watch nursery rhymes for a few minutes while I got Lia ready. 

When we sing nursery rhymes or go to a singing group, it puts both girls in a lovely mood and sets them up for a good day. 

And yet, ten minutes of watching nursery rhymes on the computer seemed to totally alter Libby’s behaviour. She was stroppy about turning it off, didn’t want breakfast and asked throughout the day to watch nursery rhymes again. 

So for me, the question isn’t about what happens to children long term when they’ve been in front of a screen every day as toddlers. 

It’s more about what happens short term to a child who spends ten minutes in front of a computer watching something very innocent and quite educational. Then turns into a stroppy little horror. 

I’d love to hear your experiences of this. How long do your children spend in front of a screen each day and how does it effect their behaviour? 

I don’t want to stop my girls from having screen time all together because despite everything, I still think it offers some benefits.

What do you think is an optimum amount of screen time per day? 

11 thoughts on “The impact of screen time on behaviour

  1. Barry Morton

    I don’t think Libby’s behaviour was anything more than ” I was enjoying that Mum and I want some more!”
    As for the BBC recommendation – that’s probably because they can’t afford to pay for the research and want to cover any potential lawsuits in the future!! (Cynical?)
    Putting them in front of the TV/Computer when you want some ‘me’ time, I truly believe is fine.
    Obviously, all day in front of a screen is not going to do any child any good, but just go with the flow from day to day.
    Routine is good for children, so an hour in the morning while they have breakfast is a good idea I think. Perhaps some more later in the day……before a nap?
    Just my opinion………! As a Dad, – does that make me a child expert? Definitely Not!!
    #learning everyday

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      Thanks Barry, that’s really helpful. Actually, the one thing I am terrible at is routine, it’s never been my thing but I guess children really need it. I suppose maybe if I was to build some screen time into our routine rather than allowing her to watch as and when it suits my (rather fluid) schedule that might be notably more beneficial. Thanks so much for your comment, that’s really thought provoking and gives me a real insight into what I should perhaps be looking at to try to sort out her (occasional) bad behaviour.

  2. Barry Morton

    Because of Finlay’s problems, routine is a must for him. We typically see poor behaviour when that routine is broken, ie. School Holidays, or other irregularities which cause his routine to be disrupted.
    This is a exaggerated example because of Finlay’s disabilities but may reflect slightly how routine is important?

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      That’s really interesting Barry, thank you. We do the same activities most weekday mornings but other than that things are fairly fluid, even bedtime and waking up time vary. Perhaps I should be more strict with bedtime and set an alarm in the mornings. Lots to think about.

  3. Mum to a Monster

    As i mentioned the other day after seeing this on twitter i actually didn’t put the TV on at all the day after. I was surprised that J didn’t ask for it to be on either.
    If we are in the house i normally have it on as background noise. Today however J did ask to have peppa on so i let him for a bit.
    It will be interesting to see a link in behaviour and tv though.
    Mum to a Monster recently posted…Half Term May-Hem at Brewers Fayre Stable Gate, DentonMy Profile

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      Ooh yes, I’d be really interested to see whether there is a change in J’s behaviour when you usually have the TV on all the time – I guess if his behaviour deteriorates without the TV then it indicates that perhaps it is the change in routine that makes the difference rather than the screen time or lack of it.x

  4. Rachel (Lifeofmyfamilyandme)

    This is interesting to read. I limit Miss C to 30 minutes a day on her tablet on a school day or about 1 hour or so on TV. I see a change in her behaviour when she is her tablet for a long period of time, she gets really stroppy then becomes grumpy and says she’s bored. Same with my younger one. Her tablet causes a behaviour difference too.

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      Ah that’s really interesting, thank you Rachel. I do want to get a tablet for the girls before they start school, I’d like them to know how to use them. I’ll definitely bear in mind advice on how long they should use it for at a time.x

  5. Debbie

    Hi Natalie, this is a tricky one. The length of time one child spends in front of a screen may not affect their behaviour, but may have an adverse affect on another child’s behaviour.

    I do feel lucky that when my two were little, we never had computers, tablets or mobile phones even! They read books and we would watch videos together (DVD’S were new on the scene).

    I think it’s important to set boundaries for screen time and it’s important that the child understands there is a limit. Like when the nursery rhymes finish the screen goes off, or when I’ve done what I have to do the screen goes off.

    As you said there is definitely a time and a place for screen time, but it has to be monitored sensibly.

    Great post, got me thinking!
    Debbie recently posted…Scrubbed…My Profile

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      Thank you Debbie. From seeing people’s comments and talking to people, I totally agree with you that I think it’s very dependent on the child. I do want my girls to have an iPad in due course, but I don’t want it to become all-consuming so I will be monitoring as you say.x

  6. Esther @ Inside Out & About

    I’m really weird about screen time – I’ve discovered. I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a youngster and I have really felt the benefits of this as an adult. My eldest starts school in September and he has barely ever used a tablet…it’s not something I’m worried about because using a tablet isn’t really a skill? and it can be learnt in a matter of days. I also think that children will be attached to devices at some point whether it be a phone, a tablet or the TV, and I’d rather leave this as long as possible. I don’t see it as problem. Another point is that I hate to be sexist, but I do think that boys get more attached to games and devices…my mum always had a much harder time getting the boys (5 of them) off the computer than the girls (6 of them). They seem to get far more engrossed. We’re very routine with bedtime, but I definitely am not routine with watching a film or a bit of TV. I only use it when I really need to get something done, or to disperse negative energy between the boys! Like you though, I don’t judge others, or feel smug about it. It’s just not me, and it works for us xx
    Esther @ Inside Out & About recently posted…27/52My Profile


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