Are children meeting recommended screen time guidelines?

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Are children around the world meeting the recommended screen time guidelines? A new study investigates this. 

With the ever-improving digital technology industry, screen time is rapidly becoming a part of many peoples’ day-to-day lives.  Digital technology and the internet can be beneficial for a variety of tasks, and they can make news, information, and other learning material more accessible for many.  It can also serve as a means to help people stay connected, particularly over long distances. 

Digital technology can also help children with learning, and it can be valuable for children in some ways.  However, this advantage can carry risks; for example, children may be exposed to inappropriate content or violence when consuming entertainment media.1  Excessive screen time can also be habit-forming, and it can impact development or prevent children from getting enough physical activity.1,2,3  Finally, some older children and teenagers, particularly those using social media platforms, may experience cyberbullying, which can be detrimental to one’s emotional well-being. 

To help reduce these potential risks, many professionals recommend limiting childrens’ screen time.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years of age avoid screen time entirely, while children between two and five years of age should limit use to a maximum of one hour each day.3,4  The World Health Organization also established similar guidelines in 2019.6

In order to investigate global adherence to screen time guidelines for children, a meta-analysis of 63 studies was performed.3  The data was compiled and the results were published in JAMA Pediatrics. 

Researchers analyzed three major databases: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and Embase, to search for relevant studies.  The data from all studies was gathered within the time span between 1999 and March 2020, in order to exclude the increased screen time taking place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.3,5

Other inclusion criteria were as follows: studies must report childrens’ adherence to an established screen time guideline, the children being studied were five years of age or younger, and the final reports had to be written in English.3  Out of the 620 articles examined, 63 studies met all of the inclusion criteria and were ultimately analyzed.  Overall, a total of 89,163 individual participants were included in this meta-analysis, so a fairly large sample size was obtained. 

The analysis revealed that 24.7% of children under two years of age and 35.6% of children between two and five years met the screen time guidelines described above.3  This suggests that, within the studies, most children are not staying within the established guidelines, and are therefore getting more screen time than recommended.

The results of this study suggest that adherence to screen time guidelines may be a prevalent issue for children today.  More research is needed to get more accurate statistics, particularly on a global scale, and how to effectively discourage excessive screen consumption in children.  More research is also needed to determine which, if any, potential consequences are associated with excessive screen time in children, and how to address them. 

References:

  1.  Canadian Paediatric Society (2017, November 27). Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Paediatr Child Health 22(8): 461-468. Accessed 2022, February 15, from https://cps.ca/documents/position/screen-time-and-young-children#ref80
  2. Shenouda N, Timmons BW. Preschool Focus: Physical Activity and Screen Time. Hamilton, Ont.: Child Health and Exercise Medicine Program. McMaster University, Issue 5, January 2012. fhs.mcmaster.ca/chemp/documents/PreschoolerFocusIssue5ScreenTime-updatedSECURED.pdf (Accessed February 15, 2022).
  3. McArthur, B., Volkova, V., Tomopoulos, S., et al (2022, February 14). Global prevalence of meeting screen time guidelines among children 5 years and younger. JAMA Pediatr. Doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.6386
  4. Council on communications and media (2016). Media and young minds. Pediatrics 138(5): E20162591. Doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-2591
  5. McArthur, B.A., Racine, N., Browne, D., et al (2021). Recreational screen time before and during COVID-19 in school-aged children. Acta Paediatr 110(10): 2805-2807. Doi: 10.1111/apa.15966
  6. World Health Organization (2019). Guidelines on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Sleep: For children under 5 years of age. Accessed online 2022, February 16, from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311664/9789241550536-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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