Doctors tell parents to cut children's screen time

Screen time is not necessarily harmful unless it replaces socialising exercise and sleep

Screen time is not necessarily harmful unless it replaces socialising exercise and sleep

The guidance recommended that families should "negotiate screen time limits" with kids "based upon the needs of an individual child" as well as the ways in which screens are used and "the degree to which use of screens appears to displace" sleep and social and physical activity.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) says parents must ensure youngsters are not spending too long on smartphones, tablets or watching television, which can disturb sleep patterns and have knock-on effects.

Staring at a phone, computer, or TV screen can interfere with sleep as the light they give off light that reduces the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that regulates wakefulness.

Parents are often told that gadgets can pose a risk to their children, but they can in fact be a valuable tool for children to explore the world, the college said.

They argue that it's best to allow each family to determine whether too much time was being spent in front of the screen and whether limits should be imposed.

The last question relates to evidence that suggests that children watching screens are distracted from feeling full and at the same time can be influenced by food advertising, leading to a higher intake of unhealthy foods.

"But if there are problems and you're having difficulties, screen time can be a contributing factor".

The recommendation that children should not use the devices in the hour before bedtime comes because of evidence that they can harm sleep.

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He said: "There is evidence that strong light into the brain before bedtime reduces the secretion of melatonin, and therefore it can be more hard to get to sleep.' Stopping use an hour before bedtime was therefore 'sensible advice", he added.

As well as helping families regulate children's screen time, the RCPCH's Screen Time Guidance is also meant to act as a trusted reference point for healthcare professionals.

It said there was a lack of evidence that screen time is beneficial for health or wellbeing.

As children get older, there should be a move towards them having autonomy over screen use, but this should be gradual and under the guidance of an adult, the college said.

"However, we know this is a grey area and parents want support, and that's why we have produced this guide". Parents need to get control of their own screen time if they are going to get control of the family's screen time.

Doctors have issued the first guidance advising parents to limit their children's access to technology as a study linked heavy social media use by teenagers to signs of depression.

"Given the rapid increase in screen use by children and young people internationally over the past decade, particularly for new content areas such as social media, further research is urgently needed to understand the impact of the contexts and content of screen use on children and young people's health and well-being, particularly in relationship to mobile digital devices".

While it's true that research is now divided on the issue of screen time's impact on children's wellbeing and mental health, one recent study found increased screen time may have caused depressive symptoms and suicide for teenage girls.

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