The UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) have issued advice on balancing screen use with healthy living.
The eight points have been developed to help parents and carers protect children and young people online. The report comes less than two weeks after calls for a harmful Instagram algorithm to be banned.
The report advises that parents and carers set boundaries for screen time outside of school and educational use for both adults and children.
It is advised that phones are left outside the bedroom at bedtime in order to get enough quality sleep. Knowing your school’s policy on screen time can also help to set boundaries around screen time.
Quality family time is important in children’s social development. Putting screens away during meal times is great way to have face-to-face conversations between children and adults.
Some phone and application features now let you track yours and your children’s screen time. This is a great way of making sure you aren’t spending too much time on your phone and more time face-to-face.
Safety both on and offline is of great concern when considering screen use. Make sure children know to put their phone away when doing an activity that requires their attention, like crossing the road.
Not everyone is comfortable with sharing photos and information online. Parents should always check with children and young people before uploading photos of them online. If in doubt – don’t share.
Taking a break
It is recommended that everybody takes a break after a few hours of screen time. It’s good to get up and move about more.
Having a conversation about screen time and social media is a great way to let children and young people know they can turn to you if they feel uncomfortable about something online.
A change in behaviour could signify they are distressed about social media content or screen use.
Mental health and social media
The report speaks of the connection between screen-based activities and mental health. While it acknowledges that screen time and applications like social media sites could affect young people with mental health problems, it highlights the need for deeper research into the area.
There is no clear evidence of whether screen-based activities could cause mental health problems.
It suggests that young people with mental health problems could be more likely to spend time on social media stemming from an association with more frequent use and mental health problems.
Despite a lack of definitive evidence this does not mean there is no connection between the two.
It is advised that there is a need for balance due to the potential benefits of using social media for young people who have mental health problems.
The report echoes the Minister for Health’s calls for the technology industry, including social media companies, to act in the interests of their users.
It calls for a code of conduct for these companies on how they will safeguard children and young people on their sites. Bullying, grooming and the normalisation of harmful behaviour are recommended areas to be included in this code.
Instagram boss Adam Mosseri has now said that harmful content, like images of self-harm, will be removed from the social media platform.
Advice and support
If you or a child has reported content on social media but isn’t happy with the response you can report it online.