my brain hurts!

Let's talk about screen time..

Here's the honest truth..

The world has changed. It will never be 'how it was in the old days'. That's just a fact. We will always have screens, and they will keep getting smaller (or more gigantic), and more efficient, and more ubiquitous. We can't change that. We can't stop that. And we don't want to.

What we DO want to do is to bring back awareness to how screen time is significantly shaping our lives...often without us even being aware. How often have you picked up your phone or tablet  and gone on social media to have a 'quick' scroll or check of something, only to find yourself there hours later, watching, searching or scrolling through completely random stuff, wondering how did I get to looking at this?!

This is not an accident. It's deliberate. There are actual algorithms designed to keep you there on the platform. It is 100% calculated, intentional, and purposefully designed to keep you watching, and scrolling, or playing. Very clever, but also very manipulative. 

The platforms call it 'engagement', but what it really is is an algorithm to manipulate your watch behaviour- both the type of content, and the time you spend watching or playing. It is there to influence you, to keep you binge watching, and to keep you coming back for more. These algorithms are not designed to to take your well-being into account in any way, manner or form. They are designed with the sole purpose of keeping you there. The longer you are there, the more advertisements you will see, and the more money they will make. No big secret.

We can't escape screens and technology but we can learn to take charge of it. Not all screen time is bad. Some of it can even be good and positive. Especially when it connects people, there is quality content, and you actually have control over when you switch off. No really,.. that word is underlined for a reason. It's very easy to say 'just switch off' but it can be extraordinarily hard. And it's not your fault. These platforms are designed this way in a deliberate manner to KEEP YOU WATCHING. 

And when we lose control over the quality and duration of our watch time.....well that is when problems start to arise.


Recommended Hours of screen time for Children Per Day

Less than 2 years of age


2- 5 years

No more than 1 hour

5-17 years of age

No more than 2 hours

(*this doesn't include screen time needed for school work.)

*Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians (24-hour movement guidelines for the early years and children and young people) May 2021,

for adults the recommended screen time is:

2 HOURS per day 

....outside of work time

 How much screen time are you getting?

...and how are you contributing to the screen time of others in your life?

let's take a look at some of the harmful effects of excessive screen time in children...

There can be many positive benefits with the use of screens by children, especially when i) screen time is supervised; ii) is of high quality, educational content; and iii) does not exceed the recommended guidelines. However there are a myriad of associated harmful effects that may occur when this is not the case.

Adverse consequences from screen time in children are more likely to occur with:

  • Long periods remaining sedentary
  • Unsupervised screen time
  • Poor quality content

Listed below are some of the negative consequences on the brain and body that have been reported to be associated with excessive screen time in children.

* Please note that research is constantly evolving and we strongly believe in sharing only good quality, evidence based research. Please stay tuned as we update our evidence based research library where we will endeavour to share high quality evidence based articles published in this area. 

Weight Gain

This can occur with excessive screen time for several reasons including:

  •  decreased levels of physical activity while watching screens
  •  an increase in mindless eating while viewing
  •  increased influence from junk food advertising while viewing (specifically high-calorie, low-nutritional value food and drinks). These advertisements can significantly influence a child's preference of what they want to eat, what they are asking their parents to buy, and what they will actually consume. 
  • Reduced sleep duration, as a result of excessive screen time, may also be a contributing factor to weight gain.

Lower physical strength

Longer periods of television viewing in children who are under 6 years of age have been found to be associated with less physical strength, as well as decreased gross motor skills in young children. 

The World Health Organisation recommends that children aged 5-17 years of age should participate in at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. However, research indicates that higher levels of physical activity do not compensate for the negative effects of screen time. 

Poor sleep quality

Sleep disturbance with screens may occur as a result of the blue light emitted from screens, disrupting melatonin. Screen time has been shown to disrupt sleep duration as well as sleep efficiency. Sleep is known to be essential for brain maturation and a key factor for good academic performance, and thus is particularly critical during childhood and adolescence.

Decreased Social connections

Excessive screen time can lead to less in person time with friends, and greater feelings of isolation.

It's important to note though that when managed properly, some forms of screen time may help people to connect, be creative, exchange ideas and improve interpersonal skills.

Behavioural problems

Excessive screen time has been shown to be associated with behavioural problems including hyperactivity, and difficulties with attention span and focus.

Effects on well-being

Excessive screen time can have impacts on mood and psychological well-being including emotional problems,anxiety and depressive symptoms. It may also affect self-esteem as a result of continually comparing oneself to others portrayed on screens, or stereotypical portrayal of characters and people.

Delayed development

More screen time means less play time and interactions with others, which can affect cognitive, motor and language development. For children less than 2 years old, television viewing has mostly negative associations, especially for language and cognitive function. For preschool-aged children, television viewing has been found to have both positive and negative outcomes.

Positive benefits of screen time in children over 2 years of age are more likely to occur when:

  •  there is high-quality media content
  • strategies are used to support a child's development (e.g labelling of objects, characters speaking directly to the child, allowing opportunities for the child to respond)
  • there is co-viewing with an adult.

Exposure to harmful content

Watching violent and negative content on screens can 'normalise' this behaviour, children can also be exposed to bullying and inappropriate messages or content.


As a result of less time outdoors, less blinking, dry eyes, eye strain and fatigue.

Neck and back pain

As a result of being hunched over screens and holding a poor posture for lengthy periods.

Effects on critical thinking and reasoning

This has been observed in children who have excessive amounts of screen time (more than 7 hours per day) and can affect a child's ability to plan and their levels of empathy. 

Difficulties with impulse control

Weak impulse control has been associated with heavy use of mobile phones or tablets,  multi-tasking with many different forms of media, and excessive television watching (>3 hours per day). 

Be less ready for school and find it harder to learn to read

Children who watch more television at a young age may exhibit less school readiness. This can manifest as less classroom engagement, decreased vocabulary, and less knowledge about numbers, and is more likely to occur when a child has excessive screen time that is unsupervised.

Excessive screen time is particularly harmful when it is poor quality content and unsupervised. 

Evidence Based Research Library

We will continue to update our library regularly with evidence based articles that have been published about the effects of screen time on children. Stay tuned as we continue to expand our database.

  • General 

  • Television

  • gaming consoles

  • mobile phones


Clinical and psychological effects of excessive screen time on children.

Domingues-Montanari S. J Paediatr Child Health. 2017 Apr;53(4):333-338.


Association Between Screen Time and Children's Performance on a Developmental Screening Test

Madigan S. et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2019 Mar 1;173(3):244-250


Brain connectivity in children is increased by the time they spend reading books and decreased by the length of exposure to screen-based media

Horowitz-Kraus T et al. Acta Paediatr. 2018 Apr;107(4):685-693. 

So what can we do about excessive screen time?

Well you can join us in the Great Switch-Off for a start! Even just switching off for 24 hours could be the circuit breaker you and your family need to break the cycle.

Consider making a Family Media Plan

This can help set boundaries around screen time, with input and accountability from all of the family.

Most importantly be  a role model!

Lead By Example. Switch off your own screens, look up, and FULLY engage in conversations, and life around you. Your child will model their behaviour upon yours, and they will never put down their own screen if they continually see you glued to yours.

 The Great Australian Switch-Of is an initiative of The Tech-Balance Institute: