rewrite this title How much screen time is healthy for children? Health risks to kids

rewrite this content and keep HTML tags Many parents believe that technology and gadgets are essential for a child’s development, but can you go too far? How much time should a child spend in front of a screen is a question being asked not just by worried parents but psychologists, health organisations and even governments. Here, you can read a collection of experts’ guidelines for managing a child’s screen time, and their warnings and advice on the dangers of recreational screen time, especially before bedtime. (Also see: Is YouTube safe for kids?) Isolation update: Screens can be a lifeline This was especially pertinent when families were having to avoid usual social contact but remain true at all times. Social distancing and self-isolation at home resulted in nearly a two-fold surge of children’s smartphone screen time, according to Bosco, a monitoring app for the online and social activity of children and teens. The number of messages in the WhatsApp groups of children is now five times higher than it was pre-lockdown, and as for teens aged 13 and over it is now 7.5 times higher than before the Coronavirus crisis started, reports Bosco. A Harris Poll survey in August 2020 found nearly seven in 10 parents of 5-to-17-year-olds said their kids’ screen time had increased, and 60% felt they “have no choice but to allow it.” Children are averaging an extra 1.5 hours of screen time a day on school days, not counting usage for school. The British Psychological Society warns that “Too much screen time for young children can unintentionally cause permanent damage to their still-developing brains. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.” However, child psychologists are now warning that months of isolation are likely to have serious emotional consequences to children, especially an only child. Penelope Leach, author of the bestselling Your Baby and Child, previously said it would be best for children under two not to have any screen time at all, but now recognizes that “we are in a completely different situation”. “Screens do not entirely replace face-to-face interaction, but it is better than nothing,” she advises, suggesting applications such as WhatsApp, Zoom and Houseparty to talk online to friends. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that American children spend a whopping seven hours a day in front of electronic media. The UK government’s Commons Science & Technology Committee has announced an inquiry into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health. And Unicef has published a review on the effects of digital technology on children’s psychological wellbeing, including happiness, mental health and social life. This suggested that some screen time could be good for children’s mental wellbeing, but that too much had a negative impact. The UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) does not set time limits for different age groups because there’s a lack of evidence. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that screen time should be replaced with more time for interaction, physical activity and sleep. In the US and UK the average age for kids getting a phone is 10.  Positive and negative effects of screen time Here we look at the positive and negative effects of screen time, and how it can affect academic results and even lead to non-screen addictions later in life. We look at establishing rules for children, and how we need to follow these ourselves as parents. Screen breaks are important, and there are apps that can help you reduce screen time. There’s a lot of detail here, so if you just want to know some quick guidelines, read our shorter Parents and Children’s Screen Time guidelines at the end of this feature. See also Online safety: How to keep children safe online and check out our online safety tips for parents. Android users: How to Control Kids’ Screen Time on Android. The reason behind all this gadget use: over a third of parents (35 percent) said they use tech gadgets to entertain their children because they are convenient, and nearly a quarter (23 percent) because they want their children to be tech-savvy. A 2015 survey of 1,000 British mothers of children aged 2 to 12 found that 85 percent of mums admit to using technology to keep the kids occupied while they get on with other activities. The survey pointed to children spending on average around 17 hours a week in front of a screen – almost double the 8.8 weekly hours spent playing outside. Wanting our children to be tech-savvy is understandable, and the need to keep them entertained (while we work or just tidy up after them!) will also make sense to many a parent. But we must also weigh up the risks associated with children having too much screen time. In his lecture ‘Managing Screen Time and Screen Dependency’ Dr Aric Sigman argues that “whether it’s Facebook, the internet or computer games, screen time is no longer merely a cultural issue about how children spend their leisure time, nor is it confined to concern over the educational value or inappropriate content—it’s a medical issue”. Sigman is concerned less with a child’s ICT or Computer Science study or use of computers for homework, but more with their screen time in non-educational environments in front of entertainment screen media such as television, the internet and computer games. He has some strong recommendations for reducing children’s screen time, from toddlers to teenagers—and adults, too. Obviously he is less worried by educational television programmes and even some educational computer games or mobile apps, but still recommends strictly limiting all screen time for kids. TV has been an easy “babysitter” for years now, aided even further with DVDs, Netflix and so on. But computer, tablet and mobile screens engender more worry, in what has been put down as merely the latest generational complaint—”fresh expressions of horrible and timeless anxieties … a tried and true form of advanced-age self-care”. The current generation of children in most Western societies spends more time in front of a screen than any before it. A study back in 2010 – before even the phenomenal rise of Apple’s iPad and other tablets – estimated that by the age of 10 children had access to an average of five screens in their lives. That number, Sigman suggests, has almost certainly risen since. In addition to the main family TV, for example, many young children have their own bedroom telly along with portable computer game consoles (Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox), smartphone, family computer and a laptop and/or a tablet computer. By the age of seven the average child will have spent a full year of 24-hour days watching recreational screen media, claims Sigman. Over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they spend in school. More screens means more consumption, and more medical problems argues Dr Sigman. Screen time effect on academic grades In 2015 Cambridge University researchers recorded the activities of more than 800 14-year-olds and analysed their GCSE results at 16. Those spending an extra hour a day on screens (TV, computer, games console, phone) saw a fall in GCSE results equivalent to two grades overall. On average, the 14-year-olds said they spent four hours of their leisure time each day watching TV or in front of a computer. An additional hour of screen-time each day was associated with 9.3 fewer GCSE points at 16 – the equivalent of dropping a grade in two subjects. Two extra hours of screen-time was associated with 18 fewer points – or dropping a grade in four subjects. Even if pupils spent more time studying, more time spent watching TV or online, still harmed their results, the analysis suggested. Establish screen time rules for the whole family So how much screen time is healthy for a 7 year-old, 10 year old, even 1, 2 or 3 year old? How much TV should a child watch? How many hours in front of a computer? You may be be shocked at too how much time in front of a screen has an adverse effect on a child’s health and development. Parents who want to reduce their children’s screen time need to establish rules to reduce the risk of later health and psychological issues. Sigman admits that there is a lack of clarity of advice, but points to a number of governmental advice points on…

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