In 2019, the World Health Organization announced new and more rigid guidelines for screen time involving babies and children. Research continues to pile up on the topic, and below are the most recent recommendations from the WHO and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Screen time is not recommended by the World Health Organization. The American Academy for Pediatrics does not recommend screen time for children under 18 months except for limited use of video chatting. From 18-24 months, the AAP suggests that parents who want to introduce media should limit time and use high-quality programs. Children should not engage in media alone.
Both the AAP and the WHO recommend that screen time should be no more than one hour a day, and less is better.
Experts say: “Children under five must spend less time sitting, watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy.” —2019 guidelines issued by the World Health OrganizationLike what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
Children Over 6
Place consistent limits on types of media and time spent on the screen. The AAP suggests designating media-free times together, such as meal times, and media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms. It also recommends having an ongoing dialogue about online safety including treating others with respect online and offline.
Experts say: “Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and well-being, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life.” —Dr. Fiona Bull, program manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases, at the WHO.
“What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.” —Dr. Jenny Radesky, lead author of the AAP policy statement, “Media and Young Minds"
Teens and Screens
Teens seem to be continuously connected, and research on screen effects continues to come in. In 2019, the WHO designated internet gaming disorder, for those who overuse games, as a diagnosable mental illness included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to the AAP, 8.5 percent of those ages 8-18 meet criteria for the disorder. On another note, a 2015 Pew study found that approximately three-quarters of teens owned a smartphone and one-quarter described being constantly connected.
Experts say: “Benefits from the use of social media in moderation include the opportunity for enhanced social support and connection. Research has suggested a U-shaped relationship between internet use and depression, with increased risks of depression at both the high and low ends of internet use. One study found that older adolescents who used social media passively (e.g., viewing others’ photos) reported declines in life satisfaction, whereas those who interacted with others and posted content did not experience these declines. Thus, in addition to the number of hours an individual spends on social media, a key factor is how social media is used.” —AAP’s policy “Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents”
“Social media can enhance access to valuable support networks, which may be particularly helpful for patients with ongoing illnesses, conditions or disabilities. In one study, young adults described the benefits of seeking health information online and through social media, and recognized these channels as useful supplementary sources of information to health care visits. Research also supports the use of social media to foster social inclusion among users who may feel excluded or who are seeking a welcoming community: for example, those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or intersex. Finally, social media may be used to enhance wellness and promote healthy behaviors, such as smoking cessation and balanced nutrition.” —AAP’s policy “Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents”
“Adolescents’ displays on social media frequently include portrayal of health risk behaviors, such as substance use, sexual behaviors, self-injury or disordered eating. Peer viewers of such content may see these behaviors as normative and desirable. Research from both the United States and the United Kingdom indicates that the major alcohol brands maintain a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.” —AAP’s policy “Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents”