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"Not enough evidence" that screen time is harmful to children

UK's first screen time guidance report recommends parents manage gaming and TV sessions based on kids' individual needs

A new report has contested the notion that time spent in front of screens inherently has a 'toxic' effect on young people.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has published the UK's first screen time guidance report to address concerns that too much time playing video games, using smart devices or engaged in other screen-based activities can be harmful.

The institution reports there is "not enough evidence to confirm that screen time is in itself harmful to child health at any age."

As a result, it is "impossible" to recommend age appropriate time limits, instead urging parents to "approach screen time based on the child's development age [and] individual need."

Families are encouraged to monitor whether screen time is displacing socialising, physical exercise and sleep -- and if so, to negotiate it between parent and child.

The report also reminds parents that: "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."

Two more specific recommendations worth noting include avoiding screen time for at least an hour before bed, and to control snacking while engaged in screen-based activities.

In the study on which the report is based, 88% of children said screen time had a negative impact on their sleep, with kids spending an average of 1.5 hours on screens before falling asleep.

Meanwhile, the RCPCH's officer for health promotion Dr Max Davie said watching screens can "distract children from feeling full" so parents need to monitor how much they are eating while in front of a screen.

The study was based on 109 children and young people between 11 and 24 years old, who said they spend an average of 2.5 hours on a computer, laptop or tablet, two hours on their phone, and two hours watching TV per day.

Davie continued: "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."

You can find the full report and a parents' fact sheet at the RCPCH website.

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