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, says the first ever guidance on children’s screen time to be published in the UK.
Screen time guidance, published today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), instead suggests parents approach screen time based on the child’s developmental age, the individual need and value the family place on positive activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep - when screen time displaces these activities, the evidence suggests there is a risk to child wellbeing.
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.
In the guidance, we have published a series of questions which aim to help families make decisions about their screen time use. Questions include:
- 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 use?
Dr Davie continues:
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.
In addition to acting as a trusted reference point for healthcare professionals, the guidance also notes evidence to suggest that screen time can have a negative impact on a child’s diet which has the potential to lead to overweight or obesity.
Dr Davie says:
We know that watching screens can distract children from feeling full and they are also often exposed to advertising which leads to higher intake of unhealthy foods.
The Government is currently consulting on whether to ban the advertising of food and drink high in salt, sugar and fat as part of its Childhood Obesity Plan. We very much hope this proposal is implemented but push the Government to go one step further giving children the same protection online and when using on-demand services too.