Parents should decide when children’s screen time is too high, says first UK guidanceBMJ 2019; 364 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l60 (Published 04 January 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l60
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I can't be the only clinician and parent who is concerned that a body with the gravitas of the RCPCH has published screen time guidance is insubstantial and woefully incomplete? By their own admission, most of the current screen time research is based on studies of TV screen time, making this current guidance effectively obsolete at time of publication. The engagement exercise undertaken by the RCPCH of 109 children and young adults shows that the average youth is spending 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen, only 2 of which is TV screen time. Three hours is spent on phones and 2.5 on computers/laptops. Many of us will have had concerns over TV screen time in the past, but these are dwarfed by current concerns about the potential adverse effects of unfettered internet use, social media and the exponential rise of gaming.
In the 'golden age' of TV, at least parents had the reassurance that programmers had deemed content suitable for young minds, unsuitable content was shown after a 9pm watershed, there was recourse to complain under Ofcom, and that programmes either had a plot line or educational content. Internet screen content has no such certainties. The on-line world has brought with it cyberbullying, sexting and on-line grooming. In Leeds, safeguarding teams have recently issued a warning over primary children playing 'Strip Fortnite'. Children can, and do, spend hours flitting from one vacuous You Tube posting to another. The gaming industry employs persuasive design deliberately to get out children hooked on games and boost their sales. In June 2018, the WHO recognised gaming addiction as a medical disorder. We live in a world where gaming industry sales have overtaken music and film sales combined.
The RCPCH document states that they are aware of the limitations of the current evidence and ask for 'more and better research' to be undertaken with regards digital technologies, especially social media. As clinicians and parents we should expect a Royal College to have awaited the outcome of such research before publishing guidelines.
Competing interests: No competing interests