Briefing paper

Screen time: the effects on children’s emotional, social, and cognitive development

Screen time Media consumption Children New Zealand

In today’s digital world, children are growing up with screens and digital devices pervading almost every aspect of their lives. This is a new phenomenon not even seen in the previous generation. The document explores the evidence of how screen time affects children’s socio-emotional and cognitive development. 

Key findings:

  • The influence of non-educational screen time on the brain and behavioural development is complex and not well understood. However, there is accumulating evidence of potential negative associations particularly with children’s ability to focus their attention and regulate their behaviour and emotions.
  • Harmful associations are generally mild but appear strongest when children use non-interactive, non-educational media instead of talking and playing with people and objects around them.
  • While recommendations to limit or avoid screen time without specifying the type of screen use may appear advantageous, such blanket time limits do not reflect contemporary New Zealand family life. There is insufficient scientific evidence to determine how much screen time is harmful.
  • It may be more helpful to differentiate between the various available forms of electronic media and focus recommendations around engaging with screens in ways that minimise the chance of adverse effects and maximise the positive opportunities they can provide.


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