Parents should approach screen time based on child's age: new guidance

A child watching a screen.
A child watching a screen. Copyright Good Morning Europe
By Pauline Bock
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The UK's first ever screen time guidance advises British parents to organise screen time around their child's needs and activities, not the other way around.


It is impossible to recommend age-appropriate limits on the time children spend looking at screens, a British scientific report has found.

"Evidence is weak for a threshold to guide children and parents to the appropriate level of screen time, and we are unable to recommend a cut-off for children's screen time overall", the UK's first ever screen time guidance, published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), concludes.

Instead, it advises parents to approach screen time based on the child's age, their own needs and the way the family values activities such as exercise.

The report's primary recommendation is that parents talk to their children about screen limits and negotiate with them based on the needs of each child. The key influence on a child's wellbeing was whether screen time negatively impacted her or his physical and social activities and sleep.

The guidance included a series of questions that aimed to help parents make decisions about their family's screen time use.

They included:

  • Is your family’s screen time under control?

  • Does screen use interfere with what your family wants to do?

  • Does screen use interfere with sleep?

  • Are you able to control snacking during screen use?

The report, however, recommends a universal rule: screens are best avoided for an hour before bedtime.

The RCPCH also published a fact sheet for parents on the health impact of screen use, with a key resource contact list and advice on how to reduce screen time in the home.

"When it comes to screen time I think it is important to encourage parents to do what is right by their family," Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Promotion for the RCPCH, said.

"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 so that everyone in the family understands.

"When these boundaries are not respected, consequences need to be put in place."

The RCPCH also advised parents to analyse their own use of media. "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 Max Davie said.

The RCPCH consulted 109 children and young people aged 11-24 from across the UK to develop this guidance.

Last September, Euronews' Good Morning Europe interviewed Dr Jeremy Walsh, who co-authored a study, which found that limiting screen time to less than two hours a day, in addition to sufficient sleep and physical activity, was associated with improved cognition. Watch his interview here.

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