How does screen time affect our little ones?

This is an issue that has received widespread media attention. But what is the scientific evidence? And what do the current guidelines advise?

The Debate brings together the latest scientific evidence, including findings from our own TABLET project, with current guidelines for screen use.

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We want to know how families make decisions about screen time. What do you think are the pros and cons? And does greater understanding about the complex question of toddler screen time increase confidence to make decisions that work for your family?

How old is your child/children? (Please select as many as applicable).

Tell us what you think about touchscreen use in children:

How confident do you feel when making choices about screen time in your family?

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What others have said about touchscreen use in children...

 

“Screens are good to communicate with friends and family who are far away.”

“Good for following instructions and learning. However, too often and too long isn't good.”

“We live in a world of touchscreens, children need to learn to use them just as they learn to eat with a knife and fork.”

“Toddlers don't have to use touchscreens; it’s parents who give them to the toddlers. Parents need to understand the issues better.”

Tell us what you think about touchscreen use in children?

Guidelines

The scientific studies needed to inform evidence-based guidelines are still in their infancy, especially when it comes to new portable media such as smartphones and tablets. However, several international agencies have decided to issue guidelines to parents as a precaution. The leading agency in this field is the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) who make several concrete suggestions (AAP, 2016; full recommendations here):

  • Time limits:​​

    • –17 months – no screen time (except for video calls)

    • 18 – 24 months – a limited amount of screen time

    • 2 – 5 year olds – one hour a day​ or high quality content

​​

​BUT, the UK’s Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) criticised the American guidelines; they argue that they’re not all based on strong evidence (RCPCH, 2019)​. The only recommendation they feel confident to make is for all children to avoid screens in the hour before bed (further explanation within Sleep section of Evidence below).

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers also suggest a ‘precautionary approach’ balanced against the potential benefits of using screen devices (Davies et al., 2019).

The picture is very muddled and meanwhile parents are making decisions about their child's screen time on a daily basis. To help ease the stress of these decisions there are various 'Resources' available online.

 

Resources

General advice for managing screen time


Screen Sense by Zero-to-Three: a great evidence-based resource for suggestions on how best to use screen media with under-3s co-authored by Rachel Barr. A particular focus on how to choose the most appropriate content and make the most of its use through co-viewing and discussion. Online safety guidance by NSPCC: The focus on this guide is for older children but it is something all parents should consider.




How to choose developmentally and age-appropriate TV programs?


Check out Common Sense Media's independent reviews.




How to choose appropriate apps?


Check out Fundamentally Children's independent app guide. Note that age ratings on the Apple App Store or Google Play are voluntary and not independently validated.




Tips on parenting and general development


NCT have many evidence-based articles that can demystify the challenges of parenting that often intersect with a child's screen use.




General child health tips


Public Health England's Change4Life campaign includes tips on child diet, exercise and activities other than screen time.





 

Evidence

General advice for managing screen time


Screen Sense by Zero-to-Three: a great evidence-based resource for suggestions on how best to use screen media with under-3s co-authored by Rachel Barr. A particular focus on how to choose the most appropriate content and make the most of its use through co-viewing and discussion. Online safety guidance by NSPCC: The focus on this guide is for older children but it is something all parents should consider.




How to choose developmentally and age-appropriate TV programs?


Check out Common Sense Media's independent reviews.




How to choose appropriate apps?


Check out Fundamentally Children's independent app guide. Note that age ratings on the Apple App Store or Google Play are voluntary and not independently validated.




Tips on parenting and general development


NCT have many evidence-based articles that can demystify the challenges of parenting that often intersect with a child's screen use.




General child health tips


Public Health England's Change4Life campaign includes tips on child diet, exercise and activities other than screen time.





 
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