The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) says parents must ensure youngsters are not spending too long on smartphones, tablets or watching television, which can disturb sleep patterns and have knock-on effects.
In a British first, the college has published guidance designed to help parents manage their children’s screen time. Following a major review, they acknowledge that high levels of screen time are linked to a less healthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and poorer mental health.
But experts said there was little evidence that screen time is directly “toxic” to health. They stopped short of setting recommended time limits, saying there is insufficient evidence that screen time in itself is harmful to child health at any age. Instead, parents should judge whether screen time in their household is controlled or if it interferes with family life, sleep or meal times.
Dr Max Davie, a health officer at the RCPCH, said children learn “from example rather than instruction”.
He said: “It’s very difficult to impose strict limits on your children’s screen use if you are constantly on screens yourself. Parents need to get control of their own screen time if they are going to get control of the family’s screen time. It’s much easier to be authoritative if you practise what you preach.” They suggested that parents should 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 well-being, they said.
Dr Davie added: “We suggest that age-appropriate boundaries are established, negotiated by parent and child, that all in the family understands.
"When these boundaries are not respected, parents must make the consequences clear,” Dr Davie added.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, said there was conflicting evidence about whether children should be set a daily threshold.
Technology such as tablets and apps are being used as educational tools, which is widely beneficial and would blur the lines if children were suggested limits, he said. But there is strong evidence that screen time can negatively impact on children’s sleep, with less sleep known to be damaging to their health. Daily Mail