Screen time: should we be worried?
There have long been claims that children are harmed by excessive screen time, often suggesting a causal link with outcomes including obesity, mental health issues, and low educational attainment. However, in its 2018 review of scientific literature, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) concludes that there is “essentially no evidence” for the statement that “screen time is directly ‘toxic’ to health”.
In the same report, however, the RCPCH warn that it is possible for screen time to have some negative impact by displacing positive activities such as socialising, good sleep, diet and exercise.
For parents and carers, the RCPCH has published its ‘screen time guide’ on how to control screen time if usage is interfering with sleep, diet and family activities. Share this guide with parents if they come to you with concerns about how their child’s screen time impacting on positive activities. Remind them that there is no recommended ‘safe’ amount of screen time and that this amount should be determined by them as a family.
With less than 2 years until RSE and health education becomes mandatory, also consider how you can help the children you work with to develop healthier behaviours and attitudes and balance their time online and offline more effectively. You may find the following useful when delivering this:
- PSHE Association’s ‘The Sleep Factor’ lesson plans (membership required) – these plans help children to recognise what good quality sleep is and how to identify habits and routines that promote good quality sleep
- Public Health England’s ‘Change4Life’ and ‘Rise Above’ lesson plans – you can use these to help children and young people to understand how to make healthier lifestyle choices around nutrition, exercise and relationships
Think about content as well as screen time
It is important to remember that screen time provides many positive opportunities for learning and development, enjoyment, and developing social connections. However, the RCPCH acknowledges that children can be exposed to inappropriate and harmful content via their screens and need to be kept safe online from exploitation and other negative influences.
It is just as important to encourage and support children to develop healthy behaviours and attitudes to their online activities as it is to the activities that they take part in offline. Our focus should be on:
- Empowering children and young people to make safe, positive choices through effective education
- Signposting them to sources of support when they need it
- Giving parents the information and advice they need to engage in open conversations with their child and provide support at home
UPDATE 7th February 2019: The UK Chief Medical Officers have published their 'Commentary on Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing: a systematic map of reviews’ with advice for parents and carers in Section 7.