It’s hard raising children and the list of worries and fears is never ending. But should digital screens added to the list of things to fear, or should they be embraced as a part of the modern world of parenting? There are mixed messages from both academia, and families.

In April the World Health Organization issued new guidelines on how much time parents should permit young children to spend on screens - phones, tablets, or TVs. Kids younger than 1 year old shouldn’t have any screen time, and kids ages 2 to 4 should have their passive screen time capped at an hour a day. These are similar to recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics which recommends children under 18 months get no screen time, kids between 2 and 5 should limit their use to an hour, and ideally, any screen time should be spent “co-watching” with engaged adults.

But are limits and guidelines one size fits all? The Royal College of Pediatrics in the UK says evidence of screen harm is often overstated. They also say that connections between screen time and adverse effects are more around socialising, exercise and sleep, and are  unable to recommend a cut-off for children's screen time.

More evidence based advice for screen time may be on the way. The National Institutes of Health in the US is conducting a Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. This study is following more than 11,000 9- and 10-year-olds at 21 sites throughout the United States. So far the two most significant findings: MRI scans found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day. And children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

Advocates for screen time argue that it leads to advanced learning, improved language skills and should be embraced as a normal part of life.

On the next episode we’ll discuss whether there really is such thing as guidelines for screen time, or are there still too many unknowns?

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Florence Breslin @floebe2822
Co-investigator, Laureate Institute for Brain Research

Jordan Shapiro @jordosh
Author, The New Childhood

Dr. Kara Bagot
Psychiatrist & Assistant Professor, University of California, San Diego

Read more:
Children need digital mentorship, not WHO’s restrictions on screen time - Brookings 
WHO says limited or no scren time for children under 5 - New York Times 

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