Blog post

Managing screen time: How exceeding NHS guidelines could affect children

Chrissie Rowell, researcher and lecturer in Marketing, discusses how managing screen time is an ongoing issue for parents of young children and how they can encourage healthier habits and more moderated use of screens.  

By Chrissie Rowell - 27 June 2023

As a parent of two children under ten, I know only too well the guilt-induced challenge of prising them away from a screen. Whether it’s your smartphone given to them on a boring car journey; an addictive video game that keeps them holed up for hours while you work from home during the school holidays; or the ridiculous amount of TV channels and multiple streaming platforms that kids have access to today. It’s all too easy as a busy parent to rely on screens to entertain children when you’re trying to multi-task or simply get some peace and quiet. 

It’s no surprise then, that recent market research I carried out on behalf of child safety brand Clippasafe, found that one of the key concerns of parents today is the battle with screens. 

How much is too much?

The in-depth customer profiling study I carried out gained insight from more than 500 parents in the UK with one or more children aged between 0 and 10 years old. Many topics were raised, including food waste and sustainability, picky eating and the most worrisome hazards around the home. The survey found that the NHS recommended time limit of two hours a day is being exceeded by 44% of parents. Additionally, 46% of parents felt that they allowed their children too much screen time but were unsure how to manage it better.

The NHS recommends that children over the age of five should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical exercise per day, increasing to 180 minutes for those between the ages of one and four. The benefits of physical activity in children are improvement of behaviour and self-confidence, increased attention levels and development of coordination and other skills, all of which can be of particular concern in children with special educational needs (SEN).

Compounding the problem, screen use in educational settings has dramatically increased in the UK over the last three years, in part due to the Apple Education Project in Europe which saw the technology company provide access to iPads in nurseries and schools across the UK. The move to online teaching delivery as a result of Covid-19 has also helped increase this. Whilst screens certainly have their educational benefits, as we rush headlong into an increasingly digitised world, it’s important to stop and pay attention to the negative impacts of technology.

A child looking at a laptop

What are the effects of too much screen time?

Alistair Turvill is a Senior Lecturer in Early Years Health and Development at the University. Discussing the impact of screens on young people, he said: “All experiences and stimuli have the potential to negatively influence behaviour; screen time exposure time is no exception. Over-exposure to devices and screens can also displace important non-digital activities and experiences. If this were to occur consistently over a period of time, the potential for cumulative impact also increases.”

Children with SEN can be particularly vulnerable to the isolation and social anxiety that results from too much screen time. I recently met with Chris Theyer, CEO of the Thomas Theyer Foundation, to discuss the issue of screens. Her son Thomas struggled with SEN his whole life, including dyspraxia and attention deficit disorder. The charity supports children and young people with SEN and difficult life circumstances through counselling and social activities, including exercise and time outdoors. 

She said: “The biggest negative influence we hear about from parents of children we support is regarding screens. Some find that their child won't come out of their room because they’re gaming for example, or they’re on social media. If they haven’t got restrictions in place it can become very problematic. After a period of gaming some of our parents experience more challenging behaviour in their children, such as shouting and aggression.”

What can parents do?

Experts agree that healthy habits including regular exercise and outdoor time, plus the moderation of screen use, are vital to build into the family household. The Thomas Theyer Foundation has recently launched its Walk and Talk sessions which give children with SEN an opportunity to communicate and build social interactions in a safe environment, combined with walks in nature. 

Chris Theyer explains: “The main benefits of outdoor exercise that we saw with Thomas were physical, but also confidence, because he didn't really have friends. He was quite isolated in many ways. The feedback from parents is that the children gain confidence. They’re not speaking to a counsellor or someone face to face. They’re able to walk along and have a chat with somebody without it being too intense, so it takes the pressure off. It’s a more natural environment to have a conversation in.”

Tips to help reduce screen time

The role adults play is crucial and parents can consider the following tips to help them reduce their children’s dependence on screens:

For further information contact the press office at

About the author

Chrissie wearing a black top smiling

Chrissie Rowell
Lecturer in Business and Marketing

Chrissie Rowell is a Lecturer in Marketing and Advertising with a strong practioner focus and a wealth of industry experience. She is module leader for Advertising Fundamentals and teaches many other creative and strategic marketing modules including Marketing Fundamentals and Design and Creativity for Marketers.

View full staff profileView full staff profile