The World Health Organization came out last month with some strict guidelines for children and screens.
In short: children under a year of age, shouldn’t be watching screens. For kids between 2 and 4, screen time shouldn’t exceed an hour a day. If parents with children under the age of 5 limit or even exclude all screen time, they’ll turn out to be healthier adults, according to the WHO, the United Nations health agency.
Screen time has become short hand for kids sitting on their bums in front of a glowing handheld device instead of partaking in some activity or engaging with other humans. Scientists have worried about the effects of screens on children and there is much that isn’t understood. Before it was screens, the culprit was television. Before that it was radio. And way back yonder it was books, if you can imagine that. After all, what parent doesn’t love to see a kid’s nose tucked in a book?
“While we know that parents vary greatly in their attitudes toward screen time for kids, we can all agree the more time kids spend engaging in the world, with family and friends, is a good thing,” said Patricia Student, an APRN at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, whose specialty is mental health for children and teens.
And still, taking iPads or a parent’s cell phone away is only part of the solution. These guidelines were developed by a panel of organization-approved experts, who not only assessed the effects of screen time on young children, but also reviewed evidence around sleep and exercise.
In a statement, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said sitting less and moving more is best for people of all ages.
“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” the statement said. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”
Screen time for young children has doubled in 20 years, from a little over an hour a day to three hours.
“Cutting back on screen time is good advice for parents of young children up to age 5, if possible,” Student said. “It’s important for kids to learn ‘screens’ are not their only venue for stimulation and entertainment and it’s important that parents model the behavior they expect from their children — regardless of their age.”
For tips on reducing screen time in your home, speak with your health care provider.