The health impacts of screen time

Current advise to limit screen time for children [Ref-1], [Ref-2] has changed significantly with the latest 2019 guideline from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. It states that ‘The evidence base for a direct ‘toxic’ effect of screen time is contested, and the evidence of harm is often overstated.’

Key messages

  • The evidence base for a direct ‘toxic’ effect of screen time is contested, and the evidence of harm is often overstated. The majority of the literature that does exist looks only at television screen time.
  • 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.
  • Many of the apparent connections between screen time and adverse effects may be mediated by lost opportunities for positive activities (socialising, exercise, sleep) that are displaced by screen time.
  • Recommendations

Our primary recommendation is that families should negotiate screen time limits with their children based upon the needs of an individual child, the ways in which screens are used and the degree to which use of screens appears to displace (or not) physical and social activities and sleep. We would also adopt the expert recommendation that screens are avoided for an hour before the planned bedtime.

There is a little evidence that any specific intervention can be applied across the population to reduce screen time. We have developed four key questions for families to use as a guide to examine their screen time:

  1. Is screen time in your household controlled?
  2. Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
  3. Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  4. Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

If a family can ask themselves (or be asked by others) these questions, and are satisfied with the answers, then they can be reassured that they are likely to be doing as well as they can with this tricky issue.

If a family wants to reduce screen use, we have offered some practical tips to support them to do so.

What do children and young people think about screen time?

To develop this guide, we consulted 109 children and young people from across the UK, aged 11-24 years. LINK

How to Consider Screen Time Limits…for Parents

LINK – JAMA 2018

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