Screen time limits for children - latest research from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

by Lauren Abbott

There is not enough evidence to say that screen time in itself is harmful to children's health.

That's the verdict from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which has published its first ever guidance on managing children's access to screen-based technology.

The organisation's new year report concludes that it is impossible to recommend age appropriate time limits for children and young people and instead suggests that parents approach and negotiate screen time limits taking into account numerous other factors instead.

Parents are advised to negotiate screen times along with their children
Parents are advised to negotiate screen times along with their children

Developmental age, the needs of an individual child, and the value a family places on activities such as socialising, exercise, hobbies and sleep should all be taken into account, says the body, and that when screen time displaces these activities then is the time for parent's to act to protect their child's wellbeing.

Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) believes society needs to “let parents be parents”.

He is encouraging parents to adjust the amount of time spent on screens by all members of the family, depending on what’s important to them and their child.

He explains: "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."

Families are encouraged to do what is right for their family when it comes to screen time
Families are encouraged to do what is right for their family when it comes to screen time

The report does however encourage parents to not expose children to screens for an hour before a planned bedtime as research suggests the light emitted from them can have a negative impact on a good night's sleep, and that parents are cautious when it comes to screens and snacking as research suggests watching screens around meal times can distract children from feeling full and lead to a higher intake of unhealthy foods.

As part of its report and guidance, a series of questions have been published for families to ask themselves to help them make their own decisions about screen time use.

These 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?

The report also offers some practical tips for families looking to reduce screen time such as setting clear boundaries, praising and rewarding those who respect the limits agreed and encouraging older children to set their own boundaries.

To learn more, read the report and see the guide for parents please click here.

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