How much screen time is safe for children?
Applying an absolute number to a question of health is always going to be a tricky business. The truth is, it’s not just about the number of hours spent glued in front of the screen, it’s just as important to consider what kids are watching - or playing – while the screen flickers.
A few years ago a headline-grabbing report claimed for every hour a toddler spends watching TV, they were 10% more likely to develop ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) by age seven.
That study got a lot of flack, but one thing’s indisputable – there’s only so much time in the day. More hours in front of a screen means fewer hours climbing trees, riding bikes, reading books, playing with friends. And less physical activity does mean more chance of obesity.
Staring at a screen can also affect everything from eyesight to posture, but there are social impacts too: a more recent study showed an increase in social networking led to an explosion of eating disorders among teenage girls.
Whether you’re a technophile, a libertarian or a frazzled parent using the electronic babysitter, we all put our children in front of screens sometimes. That could be a TV, PC or increasingly a smartphone or tablet, but it’s good to keep a balance between screen time and other activities.
In our house, screen time is a reward, not a right, and quality is as important as quantity. Spending 90 minutes cuddled up together watching an age-appropriate movie, with breaks, feels far healthier than the kids watching 30 minutes of commercial TV by themselves, bombarded with quick-fire adverts and no-one to answer their questions.