Packard Children's Expert Discusses Dangers of Excessive Screen Time

Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, advises parents to set "family rules" about screen time. (Photo: Business Wire)

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PALO ALTO, Calif.--()--Reporters can excerpt the answers below.

Ok, so how’s that whole summer screen time thing working out?

If kids are reaching for the tablet, smartphone or television remote for easy entertainment, research suggests this could be a one-way ticket to obesity, aggressive behaviors, an increase in consumerism and a decrease in standardized test scores. Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, has key tips for parents looking to trade screen time for summer fun. And they’re tips you can use in any season.

The #1 tip? “Have family rules about screen time,” said Robinson, professor of pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine. “More than anything else, just having rules about how much, what, when, where, and with whom is the most important step in making screen time and technology work for your family, instead of against it.”

The #1 rule? “Set a screen time budget,” said Robinson, who also holds the Irving Schulman Professorship in Child Health. “Based on our studies, I suggest keeping screen time to no more than seven hours per week -- or one hour per day -- including TV, DVDs, video games, computers and smartphones. Parents can then work with their kids to determine how they’re going to stay within their budget.”

Question: Can you elaborate on the relationship between excessive screen time and childhood obesity?

Dr. Robinson: It’s a true cause-and-effect relationship. Of course, the more time kids spend with screens, the less time they are spending being active. However, the best evidence supports two primary mechanisms -- that kids eat more while watching screens, and that exposure to food advertising leads to an increased eating of high-sugar, high-fat and calorie-dense foods. Lots of research shows that kids -- and adults -- eat more when distracted by a screen. So one of the most important things a family can do is to eliminate eating while watching TV and other screens.

Question: Regarding screen advertising, you’ve said that it has a powerful effect on kids’ food choices. Can you explain?

Dr. Robinson: In one of our early studies, we found that even a 30-second exposure to an ad for a novel product -- one that a child has never seen before -- creates brand preferences.

In another study, young children tasted identical food side-by-side -- such as French fries, nuggets, juice, or baby carrots -- but one was on a McDonald’s wrapper and one was on a plain wrapper of the same color and material. When asked if the two foods tasted the same or whether one tasted better, they overwhelmingly said that the food they thought was from McDonald’s tasted better. Believing that it was from McDonald’s actually altered their perceptions of taste.

Question: Do images on smartphones and tablets also increase this craving?

Dr. Robinson: There is not sufficient research yet, but the expectation is that advertising and product placements in video games, computers, and smart phones are actually more powerful than television. You have to engage and interact with them more, giving them more of your attention in order to click the screen, pay attention to pop-ups, etc. It’s one way that advertisers keep your attention and encourage you to engage with their product.

Question: Your research states that having a television in a child’s room can decrease a child’s standardized test scores. Can you explain?

Dr. Robinson: There are a number of potential factors. We know that screen time distracts children while studying and also may substitute for time spent in more educational activities. Children who have a television in their room may spend less time on reading and other scholastic activities. In addition, having such easy access to a television can disrupt or reduce a child’s sleep, which will affect their ability to study and pay attention.

Question: How do parents set boundaries if the schools are using tablets and technology to teach?

Dr. Robinson: The same qualities that make children’s use of screen technologies potential risks for health and developmental problems also make these gadgets potentially helpful for teaching and learning. So, we encourage parents to focus their children’s screen time on educational resources rather than entertainment and game playing. Regarding budgets, in our studies we allow parents to define educational screen time, and to exclude that helpful activity from their screen time budgets.

Click to learn more about the Center for Healthy Weight and research from Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH.

About Packard Children’s

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford is an internationally recognized 311-bed hospital, research center and leading regional medical network providing a full complement of services for the health of children and expectant mothers. In partnership with the Stanford University School of Medicine, our world-class doctors and nurses deliver innovative, family-centered care in every pediatric and obstetric specialty. Packard Children’s is annually ranked as one of the nation’s finest by U.S. News & World Report and the only Northern California children’s hospital with specialty programs ranked in the U.S. News Top 10. Learn more about the Packard Children’s Health Alliance at; explore our hospital expansion at; and find our full range of preeminent programs at Like us on Facebook, watch us on YouTube and follow us on Twitter.


Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital
Winter Johnson, 650-498-7056

Release Summary

Research from Thomas Robinson, MD, suggests that kids' excessive screen time can lead to obesity, aggressive behaviors, an increase in consumerism and a decrease in standardized test scores.



Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital
Winter Johnson, 650-498-7056