There appears a difference in screen time guidelines put forth in America and the UK
In a recent statement published by the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health in the United Kingdom, a group of British paediatricians suggests that there is little evidence that screen time itself is harmful to children’s health. The team reviewed 940 studies that examined the impact of screen time and children’s physical and mental health. They question previous research that connected excessive screen time to obesity, mental health problems, and educational failure. Their report cites clear trends towards poor mental health among young people in the U.K. that were evident before the advent of social media and digital technologies.
While many of the headlines describe the pediatricians’ statement as evidence that screen time is not harmful for kids, the report is far more nuanced and suggest something quite different. While excessive screen time in and of itself may not be the direct cause of specific physical and mental health issues in children, excessive screen time is implicated as displacing other positive activities, including sleep, exercise, opportunities for socialization, and involvement in other types of activities, that take away from positive well-being. Our team at LearningWorks for Kids has been preaching the same advice for years. We believe that the key concern about too much screen time is that it causes many children to have an unhealthy Play Diet. LearningWorks for Kids began writing about healthy, balanced Play Diets that include a modest amount of digital play-time on screens in 2011.
In developing their guide, the British pediatricians consulted over 100 children between the ages of 11 and 24 and found that they spent an average of 2 1/2 hours a day on computers or laptops tablets, 3 hours on the phone, and 2 hours watching television. This is fairly consistent with data collected by Common Sense Media and the Pew Research Center in the U.S. This report highlights the differences between British pediatricians and their American counterparts. Prior to their 2016 report, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the professional group representing American pediatricians, largely described screen time as being unhealthy for children across the board, and particularly for younger children. In recent years they have revised their perspectives and began to recognize that limited screen time for children under the age of 2 may not be harmful when experienced in the company of parents or other family members.
From the perspective of providing information to parents, the British pediatricians took what I view as a very reasonable approach, recognizing that screen time “is a major part of modern life and a necessary part of modern education.” More importantly, they caution other pediatricians and child care professionals that efforts to demonize screen time and working towards highly restrictive measures are likely to cause more difficulty for children rather than less.
The report provides excellent suggestions for pediatricians, psychologists, and other childcare professionals for working with families who have concerns about their children’s use of screen-based technologies. They suggest a series of questions to help parents clarify how screen time is affecting their children, along with some basic recommendations about limit setting when appropriate.
How to know if your child’s screen time needs management. Questions to ask include:
Is screen time in your household controlled?
Does screen time use interfere with what your family wants to do?
Does screen time viewing interfere with sleep?
Are you able to control snacking during screen time?
Limit setting advice from the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health revolves around the idea that parents need to be knowledgeable about their kids’ use of screen time and to have tools to set effective boundaries. They also describe that parental modeling plays a big role in how kids use their own screens and that parents who limit their own screen time are more effective in doing so with their children. They suggest that limit setting with older children involves discussion and understanding of expectations. While the report encourages clear and consistently applied boundaries for screen time, it does not provide many details in this regard. To help in this matter, we provide methods to apply the recommendations of the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health:
Strategies for Teens on Internet Use Describes the need to consider control, autonomy, and academics.
Setting Screen time Limits on Children Describes the amounts of time that are best for various ages based upon developmental levels.
How to Start Setting Screen TIme Limits Describes limit setting for special needs kids, using scheduling strategies, and the role of Play Diets.