Children should avoid screen time for at least an hour before bedtime and parents should lead by example, according to new guidelines.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) says parents must ensure youngsters are not spending too long on smartphones, tablets or watching television, which can disturb sleep patterns and have knock-on effects.
In a UK first, the college has published guidance designed to help parents manage their children's screen time. Following a major review, they acknowledge that high levels of time are linked to a less healthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and poorer mental health.
But experts said there was little evidence that screen time is directly ‘toxic’ to health. They stopped short of setting recommended time limits, saying there is insufficient evidence that screen time in itself is harmful to child health at any age.
Dr Max Davie, a health officer at the RCPCH, said that children learn 'from example rather than instruction'.He said: ‘It's very difficult to impose [overall] strict limits on your children's screen use if you are constantly on screens yourself. Parents need to get control of their own screen time if they are going to get control of the family's screen time. It's much easier to be authoritative if you practise what you preach.’
They suggested that parents should approach screen time based on the child's developmental age, the individual need and value the family place on positive activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep.
When screen time displaces these activities, the evidence suggests there is a risk to child wellbeing, they said.
He said: ‘The parent guidelines are sensible insofar as they go, but do not distinguish between different types of screen time.‘The notion that it should stop one hour before bedtime is welcome, but more detail on exactly how to turn off wifi access and keep smartphones out of the bedroom would help parents.’