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Dublin: 18°C Wednesday 23 June 2021

Guide suggests not enough evidence that screen time is harmful to children's health

Published by the RCPCH the guide consulted 109 children and young people across the UK.

The study suggests building screen time around family activities.
The study suggests building screen time around family activities.
Image: Shutterstock/FXQuadro

A NEW GUIDE says there is not enough evidence to suggest that screen time is harmful to a child’s health.

Published by the UK-based Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the guide says parents should approach the issue by taking in several factors including the child’s age, their individual needs, socialising, exercise and sleep and adjust accordingly.

When screen time displaces these other activities, that’s when evidence suggests there is a risk to child wellbeing, the guide states.

Officer for Health Promotion for the RCPCH, Dr Max Davie says: “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.

Instead, Davie suggests we need to “let parents be parents” and adjust the amount of screen time by all family members, depending on what is important to them and their children.

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

109 children and young people aged 11 -24 years from across the UK were consulted in the guide with 88% saying screen time had a negative impact on their sleep.

41% said it affected their play/fun while 35% said it had a negative impact on their mood and mental health. 

18% of those consulted said it had a negative impact on their family time and schoolwork.

The guide suggests families use four key questions to discover the amount of screen time that works for them:

  • Is screen time in your household controlled?
  • 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?

While there is no ‘safe amount’ of screen time, the guide suggests if families are satisfied with these answers, then they are likely managing the issue.

From their evidence collected, they found children with higher screen times tend to have a less healthy diet, a higher energy intake, and will show indicators of obesity.

They also tend to have more depressive symptoms although some studies show that some screen time is better for mental health than none at all.

Dr Davie says to help develop a better understanding on the issue, more research is needed.

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