Excessive technology usage has been a cause of concern from the World Health Organisationcan as well as the Canadian Paediatric Society recommending less than an hour of screen time per day for children under the age of 5. Anecdotal information says it may also adversely affect creativity and imagination (iStock)

Screen time not proven harmful to children, complicating advice

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British pediatricians have found there is not enough evidence to prove that the time children spend on televisions, computers and other screens is harmful to their health. There are negative associations between screen time and poor mental health, sleep and fitness but no proof that one causes the other.

While parents may be confused by this, experts advise that parents’ approach should be based on the child’s age, individual needs and how important the family feels are other activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep.

Pediatricians say children under two years old have very much more important things to do than spend time with screens. (iStock)

Zero screen time recommended for the very young

“I do think there’s enough evidence when we’re looking at the youngest kids, especially kids two and under, to recommend that parents minimize screen time and ideally, with the youngest kids, keep it as close to zero as possible,” says Matthew Johnson, director of education for the non-profit MediaSmarts who also participated in the Canadian Paediatric Society Digital Health Task Force.

For children who are a little older, Johnson recommends parents monitor what their children are doing on screen in the same way they would monitor who their friends are and what they are doing in and out of school.

It is difficult to set hard limits on screen time, when some of it is used for education or fitness purposes. (iStock)
‘Mindful use’ must be taught and modelled by parents, say experts

“When they’re young, obviously we have to be managing their screen use more actively,” he says. “But as they’re getting older, we have to be giving them more independence and teaching them and modelling mindful use of screens because eventually, they’re going to be using them primarily without our supervision.”

That said, there are certain limits which Johnson says are good. For example, he says evidence shows that using screens can interfere with sleep so he and Canadian pediatricians recommend there be no screen in the bedroom and no use for one hour before bedtime.

Canadian and British pediatricians recognize that technology is an integral part of the lives of children and youth. And they offer guidelines to help parents teach their children health use of screens and habits that will serve them for life.

(photo: Paul J. Salamoff )

MediaSmarts’ Matthew Johnson discusses guidelines for screen time for children and youth.

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