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Review of RCPCH and Child Health Report on Screen Time

Earlier this month, the RCPCH released their report on screen time for children and teens and as a parent and a parenting expert, I am thrilled with the report. I know what was reported on the news and the way it has been spun. However, if you take out the rhetoric of the media and really read the specifics, it is quite empowering. It is asking parents to use their judgement around 4 criteria and make a decision that best suits each individual child.

Can you believe it? The RCPCH actually believes that all children, families and circumstances are not the same! Rather than being prescriptive and authoritarian, they are giving guidance and trusting in parents to be experts on their own children.

Here are the highlights of the report:

There Is Little to No Evidence to Show Screens Cause Direct Harm

The children using screens today are the first generation of digital natives. This means that parents of these children have to learn what their children innately understand. There has been growing concern amongst people in parenting communities in regards to screens (by this I mean the physical device) causing harm. As the type of screen we use today is relatively new, there was concern about everything from eyesight damage to causing obesity with regard to the impact. The RCPCH has said that as far as we are aware at this time, there is no scientific evidence that damage is done from the actual technology.

This is not to say that the USE of screens does not act as a secondary cause. It is obvious that overuse can have negative effects on children and adults. However, it is the USE that is the issue, not the screen.

Parents Need To Assess the Impact of Screen Time and Use Their Judgement

Whilst screens themselves are not harmful, parents need to be able to assess for each child how much time they should be allowed. This is child specific and not age specific. What parents need to do is think about how screen time effects their child in the following 4 criteria:

1. Is screen time in your house controlled?
2. Does screen time interfere with what your family wants to do?
3. Does screen time interfere with sleep?
4. Are you able to control snacking during screen use?

This takes into account that for many families, gaming is a bonding activity. For some children, screen time is the way they are learning about their world. For some families, screens lead to unhealthy eating due to the lack of mindfulness around what they are eating and when they are full. You, parent, get to decide the answers.

Screens Should Be Off Before Bed

The RCPCH has continued to advocate to turn off screens an hour before bedtime. Even a small amount of sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on a child. Sleep needs to be prioritised. The body needs to find a natural rhythm to settle into the sleep cycle. This starts before we get into bed. Having a screen free, hour long bedtime routine is crucial for strong mental health.

Parents Need to be Aware of Modelling Healthy Screen Use

Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher. They are constantly watching you to help them define what life should look like. Do you prioritise screen time over face to face interaction? Are you on your phone whilst at the dinner table? Are you able to put down your device with ease or are you aggravated when transitioning to the real world?

These questions are designed to bring an awareness to parents. Often, we fall into the traps that we see our children falling into. Make a point to show that you are putting tech away. If you need to change, do it as a family. Let them see that changing habits for the better is something that grown-ups do as well. This will have the most powerful impact on your family.

I would like to take a moment and thank the RCPCH for giving power back to parents. We do not need to pass laws on this or shame for change or rely on an outside body to tell us what to do. We, as parents, have the ability to rely on our own judgement based on facts and guidance from experts to run our family as we see best. It is so nice to see responsibility for parenting being given back to parents.