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No direct evidence that screen time is actually bad for kids, says new guidance

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It is impossible to recommend appropriate screen time for children as there is not enough evidence to confirm that it is actually harmful, says a new report.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has published the UK’s first ever ‘Screen Time Guidance’.

It suggests the amount of time parents or guardians allow children to spend on phones, tablets, computers and watching TV should be based on a range of factors.

These include a child’s developmental age, the individual need and value the family place on positive activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep.

The report says that only when screen time displaces these activities is there evidence of a risk to a child’s wellbeing, but that using electronic devices is not necessarily harmful in itself.

The RCPCH’s Officer for Health Promotion, Dr Max Davie said: “Technology is an integral part of children and young people’s everyday life. They use it for communication, entertainment, and increasingly in education.

“Studies in this area are limited but during our research analysis, we couldn’t find any consistent evidence for any specific health or wellbeing benefits of screen time, and although there are negative associations between screen time and poor mental health, sleep and fitness, we cannot be sure that these links are causal, or if other factors are causing both negative health outcomes and higher screen time.”

The Screen Time Guidance poses a series of questions to help families. These include:

:: Is your family’s screen time under control?
:: 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 use?

The last question relates to evidence that suggests that children watching screens are distracted from feeling full and at the same time can be influenced by food advertising, leading to a higher intake of unhealthy foods.

Dr Davie said: “When it comes to screen time I think it is important to encourage parents to do what is right by their family.

“However, we know this is a grey area and parents want support and that’s why we have produced this guide.

“We suggest that age appropriate boundaries are established, negotiated by parent and child that everyone in the family understands.

“When these boundaries are not respected, actions need to be put in place with parents making consequences clear.

“It is also important that adults in the family reflect on their own level of screen time in order to have a positive influence on younger members.”

As well as helping families regulate children’s screen time, the RCPCH’s Screen Time Guidance is also intended to act as a trusted reference point for healthcare professionals.

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