No good evidence screen time is “toxic” to kids health, expert say, but it should be limited before bedtime
A major concern for parents has been eased after official guidance found there is “not enough evidence to confirm that screen time is in itself harmful to child health at any age.”
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said that parents should rather build screen time around family activities, not the other way round.
It comes some tech firms such as Apple have introduced measures aimed at helping users manage the time they and their children spend using mobile devices.
Screen time limits?
Parents have long been concerned at the amount of time that children are glued to their screens. Indeed in February last year the additive nature of technology was highlighted in a campaign called ‘The Truth about Tech’.
The campaign was the brainchild of two former employees of Facebook and Google. It urged tech companies to rethink and redesign addictive and intrusive tech tools.
Indeed, there are claims that tech addition does cause harm including attention and cognition disorders; depression, loneliness, stress, and anxiety; suicidal ideation; loss of productivity; hindrance of children’s development; lack of critical-thinking skills; and a misconstrued sense of culture.
The heavy interaction of children and tech has therefore caused parents sleepless nights, but the advice today from the RCPCH should at least allay some of their concerns about screen time.
It is the first ever guidance on children’s screen time to be published in the UK, and it found that 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.”
Instead the guidance 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,” it warned.
While the guidance avoids setting screen time limits for children, it recommends not using devices in the hour before bedtime.
“Technology is an integral part of the lives of children and young people,” said Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). “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,” said Dr Davie.
“When it comes to screen time I think it is important to encourage parents to do what is right by their family,” said DR Davie. “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,” Dr Davie added.
Despite this guidance, the amount of time children are spending using tech will no doubt still cause parents worry.
Last year Apple CEO Tim Cook urged parents to stop children using social media. He has banned his nephew for example from using social networks.