Top doctors urge parents to limit children’s screen time

Chief medical officers recommend avoiding the use of devices at bedtime and during meals

Parents should try and avoid letting children use mobile phones and other screens at bedtime or during meals, parents have been advised.

The chief medical officers across the UK have issued joint guidance on healthy use of social media and screen for children and families. The advice comes in the wake of the suicide of a teenager which was linked to sue of social media.

How screen use impacts on brain development has been the subject of much debate in recent years, with a recent Canadian study suggesting overuse can be particularly damaging for toddlers.

However, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has said there is no evidence of a “direct toxic effect”.

Now, the UK’s top doctors have said families should police their own use of screens and social media. This includes keeping screen out of the bedroom at bedtime as it can disrupt sleep and avoiding use at the dinner table because it can prevent important social interaction.

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Parents should also police their own use so that they are giving their children proper attention, while children should be consulted before pictures of them are posted online, the CMOs recommend.

Speaking to BBC radio this morning, Scotland’s CMO Catherine Calderwood said: “There’s no evidence of causation of harm, but what we have seen is a rise in children’s depression rate, in children saying that their quality of life is lower if they are using screen time for long periods of time. 

“We know that children notice if their parents are paying attention to them and we do know that one in five children wakes up at night to check their phone for social media messages and interrupted sleep decreases their quality of education the next day. So, there isn’t a cause and effect, but there seems to be an association, and that’s why we’ve been very cautious in making very bold statements about the harms.”

The Scottish Government has announced it will produce new guidance on screen time.

Minister for mental health Clare Haughey said: “Social media has become a part of everyday life, and it’s difficult to imagine our day-to-day routines without it. It can be used in a hugely positive way, to empower and to connect people, particularly young people. However, what is important is ensuring that we all know what the healthy use of social media and screens looks like.”

Sam Trendall

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