techUK comment on new guidelines on screen time and social media

techUK welcomes today’s report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) on the health impacts of screen time.

In recent years much media attention has been focused on the ‘toxic’ health impact of screen time, often linked to obesity, mental health problems and educational failure, with little evidence to support it. This first guidance published by the RCPCH is an excellent step to providing sound advice for parents and clinicians based on a systematic review of the evidence.

In its review the RCPCH uncovered no evidence that screen time is itself harmful to child health at any age. The contribution of screen time to wellbeing was found to be small when considered together with other factors such as sleep, physical activity and eating.

techUK is encouraged by these findings and has long called for a change in the debate away from screen time and limits. Time spent on screens is a major part of modern life and a necessary part of modern education. It presents countless opportunities to learn, play and grow. Arbitrary screen time limits would only deprive young people of an outlet for creativity and hamper their ability to seek help, guidance and information online. Instead the focus should be on the quality of screen and device use rather than quantity.

We strongly support the RCPCH’s recommendation that families should decide screen time limits with their children based upon the needs of the individual child. Screen time and social media usage should always be balanced with socialising, good sleep, diet and exercise  and it is right that parents, who know their child best, are the ones to decide where this balance should lie. The RCPCH has produced a helpful set of questions as a guideline for parents as they decide what the right balance for them may be:

  • Is your family’s screen time under control?
  • Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
  • Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  • Are you able to control snacking during screen time use?

The RCPCH is clear that there are limitations in the existing evidence base on which its guidance is based on, and urges both more and better research, particularly on newer uses of digital media. Separate research published by EClinicalMedicine today found that young people with depressive symptoms were more likely to spend excessive amounts of time on social media (distinct from screen time more generally), however it is unclear whether excessive social media usage is the cause of this, or a symptom.

As such techUK believe upcoming work by the Chief Medical Officer on the impact of social media and mental health will be a welcome addition to the debate, as will any research undertaken by the newly established UK Council on Internet Safety, the Board of which techUK sits on.

While further research is carried out the tech industry remains committed to empowering families and giving them the tools they need. Over the last year alone Google and Apple have launched two new tools: Family Link and Screen Time, both of which give parents a host of new controls allowing them to monitor and manage their and their families’ digital activity in just a few short steps. Likewise, Microsoft allows parents to set daily and weekly usage limits on both Windows 10 and the Xbox console.

Continued education and promotion of these existing technologies will be vital in helping parents make the right decision for themselves and their children.

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