Much has been said about the World Health Organization's new recommendations that caregivers limit the time they spend staring young children on screens. But the guidelines are less about the risks of screen time itself than about the benefits of spending time doing just about everything else.
The recommendations largely refer to physical activity and sleep for children under the age of five and are an attempt to establish healthy habits during a critical development window. Among the recommendations for belly time and active play, the WHO also points out that children between the ages of two and five should not spend more than an hour a day in front of a screen. And children under the age of two should not even be concerned with sitting screen time, the WHO said.
These new guidelines therefore contain more than just the screen time. "However, I think the recommendations for sedentary screen times, in particular, are very high," says Juana Willumsen, WHO adviser on childhood obesity and physical activity. "This is something that parents, families and people in general are worried about."
Screening time can mean many things: getting involved in an endless stream of YouTube videos, watching TV, playing video games, scrolling through social media, or face-timing with grandparents. There is a lot of discussion about what all these digital media do to the brains of people ̵
In this case, however, the WHO is not focused on what their screen time can do for the brain, based on their recommendations. "We did not specifically look for clues to the effects of screens, such as the light emitted or the content a child sees on screen and cognitive development," says Willumsen. "We've been working on a sitting posture." Sitting or lying down and watching TV counts to the WHO threshold. Dancing with the TV does not. YouTube staring at a tablet counts; Do not read along with a parent on an e-reader. The FaceTiming family is also good, says Williams.
These distinctions are the key to anger as researchers continue to investigate the effects of on-screen time, says Marc Potenza, a professor of psychiatry at Yale. "I would argue that not all forms of screen time are the same in terms of their potential benefits and potentially harmful aspects," he says. This does not mean that WHO should have put off making recommendations, only that people should be prepared for these guidelines to change as we learn more. "There are children who are growing up now, and parents have questions about how to raise their children in this environment."
For Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at the Boston Children's Hospital, which focuses on the WHO The recommendations for screen time miss the big picture: "It's not like that screen is potentially toxic in itself, but that it is an impoverished stimulus compared to a personal interaction, "he says. In this context, Screen Time essentially becomes an indicator of how people interact with children – and the important part is that children gain diverse experiences, he says. He would like to receive recommendations for simple alternatives – like listening to music. Otherwise, he says, "Defining a screen time limit is likely to lead to more guilt than enlightenment."
With this kind of screen time limitations, the burden falls on parents and carers to follow them. And Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, hopes that in the future, WHO will also make recommendations to improve the digital environment of children. "These include less consumption at bedtime or overnight, healthier content that is really educational and not just marketed as such, and less compelling features that young people can not resist," she says. "This would less force parents to be the gatekeepers of children's media behavior."