In the modern, digital world, screens are all around us. Our houses are bound to contain at least some of the following: TVs, iPads, tablets, laptops, games consoles, phones… As parents and carers we are probably all guilty of letting our children watch screens when we need a break! But how much is too much and what are the risks?
What is the current guidance?
The World Health Organisation advises that children:
- below 2 years of age should not be exposed to any screen time
- between the ages of 2 and 4 years should not watch more than one hour daily
- between the ages of 5 and 17 years should not watch more than two hours daily.
Myth 1: Screen time helps my baby to learn
There is no evidence of any benefit of watching screens to children under the age of two years. However, some educational programmes with a clear story or structure and age-appropriate words and sentences may be slightly beneficial for older children.
Myth 2: Interactive screen games are ‘better’ than simply watching screens
Early evidence suggests that interactive screens may make it less likely for children to talk to the adults around them. Having lots of opportunities to talk and play with adults and other children is really important for development of children’s communication skills.
- Studies show that too much screen time might mean children have less opportunities to develop other skills, like talking, walking and drawing. It may also affect children’s sleep and may lead to health issues like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes (if not balanced with enough exercise).
- Having the TV on in the background can distract children from listening, talking and playing with adults. Young children can only focus on one thing at a time and will find it hard to listen to adults talking when the TV is on in the background.
- Many children will have long-term challenges with talking and understanding words for a variety of reasons – these conditions are not caused by or linked to screen use.
Screens are here to stay and are very useful in the modern world. We can ensure they are used appropriately by following some simple guidance.
What’s the best and safest way for children to use screens?
- Try to stick to daily time limits.
- Make sure older children take breaks from screens.
- Choose what your child watches so you can make sure it’s at the right level for them to understand.
- Use parental controls on your internet.
- Avoid programmes or games that don’t have much talking.
- Watch or use screens together with your child and talk about what you are watching.
- Show interest in what your child is playing with on screen. Maybe you can join in and make it a more sociable, interactive activity.
- Use screens in family rooms. Children with TVs in their bedrooms watch more TV than those who don’t.
- Enjoy screens together in fun ways, such as looking at photos and chatting about them or video-calling grandparents.
- Turn screens (including TV) off when you are playing or chatting with your child.
- Balance screen-time with good quality family time, such as by having no screens at mealtimes so you can all concentrate talking and listening to each other.
- Be a good role model and have some screen-free time yourself! Try to put your phone away so you won’t be tempted to look at it during periods when you are talking and playing with your child.
Interested in reading more? Check out some of the articles we referenced when putting this blog together:
Karani, N.F., Sher, J., & Mophosho, M. (2022). The influence of screen time on children’s language development: A scoping review. South African Journal of Communication Disorders, 69(1), a825. https://doi. org/10.4102/sajcd.v69i1.825
Screen time for babies and toddlers: the evidence | Baby & toddler articles & support | NCT
Pre-school (0-5) online safety tips and advice | Internet Matters
Why not all screen time is the same for children - BBC Future
Babies need humans, not screens | UNICEF Parenting