New study says parents should worry less about screen time

Leading paediatricians have advised parents that there is little evidence to support the toxic reputation of too much screen time. 

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has released a guide on the effects of screen time alongside guidance for parents. The guide advises that there is little evidence to support the idea that too much screen time is harmful to children’s health and wellbeing.

Children and young people are referred to as digital natives: people who have grown up surrounded by information and entertainment on screens. From social media sites to television shows they know no other reality.

Technology is a massive part of modern life and is an essential tool in education.

The guide includes information gathered by consulting over 100 11-24 year olds about their use of screen and what they feel the positives and negatives of screen time are.

Pro’s and con’s

Screen time is often linked to obesity, mental ill health and failure in education, but the RCPCH guide points out that there is little evidence to support these claims. Concern should lie with screen content rather than the time spent looking at screens, they say.

When speaking to children and young people for the guide over 80 per cent said they believe that screen time negatively effects their sleep. Over 30 per cent said that screen time had a negative effect on their mood or mental health.

While there are no direct links between screen time and obesity, eating while looking at a screen can distract children from realising when they are full and cause them to overeat. Online and TV advertising of unhealthy food and drink is also a concern.

Screen use often exposes children and young people to harmful content like violence, pornography and unrealistic imagery such as unrealistic body shapes.

There are clear benefits and downfalls to the use of screens, but the time spent looking at screens has little effect on this.

Advice

One area where the RCPCH recommend screen time is limited is before bed. They advise that screens are not used for at least one hour before going to sleep.

Screens omit blue light which keeps the brain active before light, while most devices have a night-mode option there is little to suggest that this is effective in helping us prepare to sleep or wind down.

This advice is listed alongside a host of other points in the RCPCH fact sheet for parents.

Instead of setting limits on children’s screen time, the fact sheet advises parents to ask themselves four questions: Is screen time in your household controlled?; 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?

These questions are aimed at the whole family, not just children. The fact sheet also urges parents to consider their own screen use and screen time, be sleep and snack aware, prioritise face-t0-face interactions and not to be intrusive or judgemental of teenagers’ use of the internet.

If you are happy with the answers to these questions the RCPCH say there is no reason to limit screen time, but if you aren’t it is important to sit down as a family and discuss boundaries of screen use that everyone can agree on.

Read the full guide here and access the parent fact sheet here.

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