The First UK Screen Time Guide Looks at the Health Impacts of Screen Time on Children

The First UK Screen Time Guide Looks at the Health Impacts of Screen Time on Children

The first UK screen time guide helps parents and families decide how to monitor children's screen time and looks at facts and figures from research.

For the first time, a report focusing on screen time with children has been published in the UK today and aims to offer parents guidance with the amount of time they limit their children to games and TV. Although there is not enough evidence to suggest that screen time is harmful to children. This report comes from The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health who published this news post announcing the Screen Time Guidance resource that is now available.

The guide offers existing research on the health effects of screen time on children and young people and includes three downloadable PDF documents. These contain the guide itself, a fact sheet, and an infographic containing key thoughts from over 100 children and young people aged 11-24.

88% of those asked said that screen time had a negative effect on their sleep with an average of 1.5 hours being spent on screens before going to sleep. 41% stated that screen time had affected their play time and fun. 35% said that screen time had a negative effect on their mental health and mood with evidence showing “Children with higher screen time, particularly over 2 hours per day, tend to have more depressive symptoms.” 18% say it has a negative impact on family time and schoolwork.

Additionally, those asked said they spend an average of 2.5 hours on a computer/laptop/tablet, 3 hours on their phones, and 2 hours watching TV.

It’s mentioned that “There is not enough evidence to confirm that screen time is in itself harmful to child health at any age” which makes it “impossible to recommend age appropriate time limits”. Instead, the primary recommendation is that “families should negotiate screen time limits with their children based upon the needs of an individual child”.

This requires looking into how the devices are being used and the degree of which they appear to, or not appear to displace physical and social activities. The guide also encourages that parents adopt the expert recommendation that screens are avoided for an hour before the user goes to sleep.

Four questions have been specified to help families examine how the screen time is being used, stating that if the answers being given are satisfying, then they can assume they are “likely doing as well as they can”. Here are the questions,

  1. Is screen time in your household controlled?
  2. Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
  3. Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  4. Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

the Officer for Health Promotion for RCPCH, Dr Max Davie said,

Technology is an integral part of the lives of children and young people. They use it for communication, entertainment, and increasingly in education.

Studies in this area are limited but during our research analysis, 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. To help us develop a better understanding of this issue, I urge both more and better research, particularly on newer uses of digital media, such as social media.

She also goes on to say,

“To help us develop a better understanding of this issue, I urge both more and better research, particularly on newer uses of digital media, such as social media.”

The guide goes into discussing how children must be kept safe online, mentioning social media. The guide also points out video game certifications by saying, “Both video content and games have certification systems, designed to protect children from inappropriate content. It is important that parents are aware of these systems, and mindful of them, especially when older siblings may be playing violent or explicit games.”

Regarding video games and parental controls, consoles usually have a fair amount of parental controls and offer parents to set screen times. The Nintendo Switch, for example, has a parental controls app which was briefly mentioned here and detailed more in this video. The PS4 launched its 5.0 firmware update which introduced family and parental controls. Xbox One consoles also have a family setting, allowing you to control content restrictions, and time limits.

You can read the guide as a PDF here which contains more information such as additional research, facts, and figures.