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Parenting

Most children under 5 have unhealthy amount of screen time

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Shocked little casual girl watching movie. Surprised female kid lying on the floor, home alone, watching forbidden scary movies, pointing on laptop

 By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Most children under five are spending unhealthily long periods on smartphones or in front of the television, according to new research.

More than two-thirds are allowed more than an hour a day - including three in four children under two.

Screen time has been linked to delay development of skills such as language and sociability.

The study, which tracked nearly 90,000 children, adds to the debate about how much is safe.

Corresponding author Dr. Sheri Madigan, a psychologist at Calgary University in Canada, said: "Only a minority five years and younger are meeting screen time guidelines.

"This highlights the need to provide support and resources to families to best fit evidence-based recommendations into their lives."

The World Health Organization says screens should be banned before the age of two.

Two, three and four-year-olds should be limited to just one hour per day - and 'less is better.'

Dr. Madigan said: "One in four children younger than two years and one in three children aged two to five years are meeting screen time guidelines, highlighting the need for additional public health initiatives aimed at promoting healthy device use."

Screen time has also been associated with children being obese and having worse mental health.

In the UK, more than half of three to four-year-olds use the internet every week - and one in five have their own tablet.

Dr. Madigan said: "Research has shown that the threshold or digital tipping point for this age range is 1 hour a day.

"For example, young children using screens 2 hours daily or 3 hours or more, when compared with 1 hour a day, show an increased likelihood of reported behavioural problems and poor developmental outcomes."

Children five years and younger are the fastest-growing users of digital media - hooked for 25 percent of their waking hours.

Dr. Madigan said: "This value is potentially concerning, because high levels of screen use in young children can be associated with negative consequences for their development."

Paediatricians should ask parents about family media use and
encourage offline activities such as reading, play, exercise and social interaction.

Dr. Madigan said: "Starting these conversations early in the child's care is important because poor screen use habits formed in young children are likely to be maintained over time."

Her team pooled data from 63 studies across the world - including the UK.

Dr. Madigan said: "Since the introduction of smartphones in the early 2000s and tablets in 2010, children have more access to mobile devices, making it more difficult for parents to co-view and monitor screens.

"Rapid changes in mobile digital accessibility and content targeted at children, as well as the reported increases in screen use during the COVID-19 pandemic, have placed additional pressures on families.

"More studies are needed to assess the effect that device access during the pandemic has had on child outcomes. Guidelines may need to be
contextualszed within the changing digital landscape."

In the UK, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says there is not enough evidence to set screen time limits.

It advises families to negotiate based upon the needs of an individual child.

Dr. Madigan said: "Parents often report that their child's screen use is a top parenting concern.

"Policy changes directed at industry, such as easier and more transparent device settings, could help families better set limits.

"Given how many children exceed screen time guidelines, industry elimination of ads from programming and apps directed at children would support healthier outcomes.

"Digital media are now a regular part of young children's lives, and supporting families to best fit evidence-based recommendations into their daily routines needs to be a priority."

The study was in JAMA Pediatrics.

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