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Screen time does not harm children

By ‘not necessarily’ harmful this means that there is insufficient evidence that the use of electronic devices has an adverse effect on the health of children rather than positively concluding that it has no negative impact. Some could read this as ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of no effect’; others may see this as a positive outcome that the ubiquitous devices of the modern age do not seem to be altering our overall health patterns.

According to the new report, it is impossible to recommend appropriate screen time for children given there is insufficient evidence to confirm that the use of screens is actually harmful. This comes from a report prepared by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), a U.K. academic institution. The report is “Screen Time Guidance”, and it represents one of the first major inquiries into the subject.

The report suggests that the amount of time parents allow children to spend on electronic devices (be these phones, tablets, computers and watching television) should be based on a range of factors.

Summarized by the BBC, tips for parents drawn out from the report include:

Mealtimes can be good opportunities for screen-free zones.
If children’s screen time use seems out of control, parents should consider intervening.
Parents should think about their own screen use, including whether they use devices unconsciously too often.
Younger children need face to face social interaction and screens are no substitute for this.

These factors are: the child’s developmental age; the individual need of the child; and time to engage in other activities like socializing, exercise and sleep. Since screen time can displace these other activities there could be a risk to a child’s well-being. However, the use of devices with screens is not in itself harmful.

Quoted by Sky News, RCPCH’s Officer for Health Promotion, Dr. Max Davie stated: “Technology is an integral part of children and young people’s everyday life. They use it for communication, entertainment, and increasingly in education.”

He also adds: “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.”

One recommendation that is made in the report is the College recommends that screens are switched off an hour before bedtime. This is based on evidence that the devices can stimulate the brain and the fact that the blue light generated disrupts the body’s creation of the sleep hormone melatonin.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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