19 May UK children and parents being failed by lack of screentime guidelines
As part of the programme of talks I do in UK schools to children and their parents I can be guaranteed that I will always be asked about ‘official’ screentime guidelines for children of all ages. And that’s the point at which I have to say, “I’m afraid there aren’t any”.
By contrast, American parents benefit from the clear recommendations produced by the American Academy of Paediatrics. As part of their general suggestions to parents they lay down three very specific screentime guidelines;
#1 Establish screen-free zones
The AAP recommend that parents should establish clear ‘screen-free’ zones at home. They particularly urge that there should be no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms.
#2 Two hour ‘entertainment’ cap
The AAP acknowledge that most children now use screens in schools and at home for homework. So they helpfully make a distinction between the two and recommend that children (including teens) should engage with screen-based ‘entertainment media’ for no more than one or two hours per day. And they recommend parents make sure that any such entertainment media should be ‘high-quality content’.
#3 No screens at all under two years
The age at which children should be introduced to screens in the first place is crystal clear to US parents. The AAP say that television, the internet and other screen-based media (including smartphones) should be completely banned for infants and children under the age of two.
Where are similar guidelines for UK parents? Despite the government’s commitment to increasing the protection for children online, specifically against pornography, to date there have been no guidelines issued on the amount of time children should be spending online, or the ages at which they should be introduced to screens in the first place.
Even allowing for the usual anxiety of appearing a ‘nanny state’, public-funded bodies such the NHS are in agreement that UK children are spending excessive time on screen-based activities and that it’s creating problems for children, parents and society at large.
‘It’s generally agreed that many of today’s children spend too much time in front of a screen – and too little on physical activity. The real question is – what can we do about it? ‘ NHS Online
But the NHS also falls short of giving recommendations and guidelines to parents on what they should be doing to reduce screen time.
Why the reluctance?
There are clear guidelines on alcohol, drugs and smoking for children, and with new research coming out regularly linking excess screen, internet and social media time to adverse outcomes for both children and adults, the UK is now lagging behind in helping parents navigate this problem.
Screentime guidelines by age are needed now.