How Much Screen Time for Young Children is Too Much?

The World Health Organization has issued a first-ever recommendation on a screen time limit for young children.

WHO released the recommendations on April 24 as part of broader guidelines trying to reduce time sitting for under-fives and children as a whole.

The report calls for reducing screen time—be it using a tablet or computer or watching television—and in its place increasing physically active playtime. The report also says that a lack of sleep or interrupted sleep is another issue impeding healthy growth in children up to age five.

What are WHO’s Screen Time Recommendations?

For Infants

WHo recommends that infants undertake physical activity several times a day through floor-based interactive play.

If the infant is not yet mobile, the guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes (spread throughout the day) of the child being able to lie prone on their tummies while they are awake. This “tummy time” encourages infants to move their limbs, work on their strength and, in general, explore the world around them.

In addition to this, the report suggests not spending more than one hour at a time in a pram or highchair or strapped to a caregiver.

Rather than screen time—which the report says should not be used at all for infants under one year—caregivers should engage in reading and storytelling.

Ages 1-2

For children between one and two years, experts believe that around 180 minutes of physical activity is beneficial, though more is better. Children do not have to engage in this activity all at once and can be active for different parts of the day, topping up their energy with naps, as required.

Again, the report recommends children at this age not be restrained for more than one hour at a time.

Similarly, the report stresses that screen time is not recommended for one-year-olds. However, for two-year-olds, around one hour of screen time per day is acceptable, though less may lead to better health outcomes.

And again, interactive story time with a caregiver is encouraged when the child is sedentary.

Ages 3-4

Between age three and four, the report recommends 180 minutes of physical activity with 60 minutes or more of that activity classed as moderate to vigorous. For example, going out and playing ball, running around in a park or playing active games with friends would qualify as vigorous activity.

In addition to not being restrained for more than one hour at a time, the report also stresses that ideally we would want to see children of this age having no more than one hour of screen time.

“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”

The Pros and Cons of Screen Time for Kids

Screen time in itself isn’t always a bad thing.

We know that, for many children, tablet computers can form part of their education as they play learning games. These games can reinforce lessons about counting, language development and, more broadly, computer literacy.

Similarly, screen time can also be critical for keeping in touch with family and friends, and socialization in our modern world relies on these tools. Children must understand their importance and how to use them.

However, screen time is usually time that kids spend being physically inactive, which carries risks of them developing a sedentary lifestyle that may extend well into adulthood.

There are other problems that small studies have found with screen time. Research has shown that extended screen time appears to have negative impacts on children’s weight, their mental health and their general quality of life, though more research is needed.

In reaction to these recommendations, clinicians have said that WHO appears to be applying a precautionary principle: because we don’t fully understand what screen time might be doing to young people’s development, WHO is recommending a lower limit.

Experts will be mindful that this lower limit may be difficult to maintain, however it gives a benchmark for advice for parents who can then adapt it as they feel necessary while keeping the overall goal in mind of keeping their children as active as possible to ensure they are growing up healthy.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Getty Images.

25 comments

Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer3 days ago

Children and youth need playtime - physical.

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer12 days ago

Children need physical outdoor playtime.

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Angeles Madrazo
Angeles M17 days ago

Children must go outside to see, taste, smell, fell the texture, listen, on screens they loose all of this. Thank you

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Lisa M
Lisa M18 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M18 days ago

Thanks.

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry K18 days ago

Noted

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Melisa B
Mia B18 days ago

Thank you

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Ruth R
Ruth R18 days ago

I remember psychologists saying at one time, "No TV before the age of 3", so that seems like a good rule of thumb for all screens. This article doesn't mention anything about the effect on children's eyes, which I should have thought was important.

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Alea C
Alea C19 days ago

Tyfs.

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Anne M
Anne M19 days ago

0 time.. - If you want to save their sight,,, let them play with toys, or other kids... - No screens at all...

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