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Launch of Virtual Lives: Is Screen Time Guidance Needed?


Parents in Northern Ireland are worried their children are spending too much time using screens – with the majority asking for Government to issue guidance.

Children in Northern Ireland carried out research with parents to find out how long their children are spending using screens and what their biggest concerns were around screen time.

The report, Virtual Lives, found that 63% of parents had a concern regarding their child’s screen use. 77% said they would like their children to spend a little less or a lot less using screens, while 82% said they would like more guidance on the issue.

The research also revealed that children are spending on average 11 to 34 hours per week using screens.

77% of parents found it difficult to control the amount of screen time with parents worrying about the negative impact upon their child’s health, well-being and social interaction.

There is a difference in types of screens being used by boys and girls. Girls are more likely to use smart phones and tablets, with boys more likely to use games consoles.

The survey of 112 parents which gave data for 186 children aged 4 to 15 years old showed that 82% of parents wanted guidance to be issued to help them make informed decisions regarding their child’s use of screens.

Concerns over the physical, mental health and well-being impact of screen time

Parents were worried about the physical health of their children from long term use of screens including brain development, lack of physical activity and eye sight concerns.

Nearly all parents raised the issue of mood, attitude and mental health of their children. They witnessed a negative change in mood and attitude in their children with prolonged use of screens. With several raising concerns over mental health and addiction that stems from using screens too much.

Concerns over screen time distraction from other activities

Parents were also worried about how distracting screen time can be for their children – with parents saying it impacts upon time together as a family, and parents also saying they have to fight to either get their children to do other things or to come off their screens.

What is needed

Parents told us they want screen time guidance (82%). They recognised the many positive benefits of screen time but also know it is about moderation. They would like schools (36%) to issue guidance, with some suggesting the Department of Health (29%) should be responsible, while others thought it should be the Public Health Agency.

Ellen Finlay, author of the report, said:

“The amount of time children spends using screens is a big issue for parents – and many are worrying that too long watching screens is having a negative impact on their physical and mental health.”

“Parents are not afraid to limit screen time; however, they are asking for information on all the options to limit it. They are also asking for guidance so they can make an informed decision about their child’s screen time use.”

“Technology and screens can be a great opportunity to learn and interact with others, however it is about providing parents with all the information so they can deal with the issue in a positive way and use screens in a beneficial way.”

You can download the Executive Summary here

You can download the full report here 

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