There is not enough evidence to confirm that screen time is in itself harmful to child health at any age, making it impossible to recommend age appropriate time limits.
In a UK first, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)
said there was no good evidence that time in front of a screen is “toxic” to health, as is sometimes claimed.
The college said it was not setting time limits for children because there was not enough evidence that screen time was harmful to child health at any age.
Instead, it has published a series of questions to help families make decisions about their screen time use:
- Is your family’s screen time under control?
- Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
- Does screen use interfere with sleep?
- Are you able to control snacking during screen time?
Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said we need to “let parents be parents” and adjust the amount of time spent on screens by all members of the family, depending on what’s important to them and their child. Dr Davie said:
Technology is an integral part of the lives of children and young people. They use it for communication, entertainment, and increasingly in education.
Studies in this area are limited but during our research analysis, we couldn’t find any consistent evidence for any specific health or wellbeing benefits of screen time, and although there are negative associations between screen time and poor mental health, sleep and fitness, we cannot be sure that these links are causal, or if other factors are causing both negative health outcomes and higher screen time. To help us develop a better understanding of this issue, I urge both more and better research, particularly on newer uses of digital media, such as social media.
Dr Davie continued:
When it comes to screen time I think it is important to encourage parents to do what is right by their family. However, we know this is a grey area and parents want support and that’s why we have produced this guide. We suggest that age appropriate boundaries are established, negotiated by parent and child that everyone in the family understands. When these boundaries are not respected, consequences need to be put in place. It is also important that adults in the family reflect on their own level of screen time in order to have a positive influence on younger members.
The research (questioning 109 young people) also found:
Its guidance recommends that families negotiate screen time limits with their children based on individual needs and how much it impacts on sleep, as well as physical and social activities.
For infants and younger children, this will involve parents deciding what content they watch and for how long they use the devices.
As children get older, there should be a move towards them having autonomy over screen use, but this should be gradual and under the guidance of an adult, the RCPCH said.
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