New guidelines by the world’s highest health authority reveal why children should not spend any time looking at tablets, TVs or phones until they are at least 2 years old.
The World Health Organization warned that screen time may lead to children having slower brain and physical development, worse mental health, and being obese.
WHO recommended children spend time drawing, reading or being read to, singing and doing puzzles to improve their cognitive function.
But experts in the United Kingdom have not readily accepted the warnings as more than half of three to 4-year-olds use the internet and one in 5 have their own tablet.
The WHO published its guidelines on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior and Sleep for Children Under Five Years of Age.
It says babies and toddlers shouldn’t spend any time looking at electronic screens and 2, 3 and 4-year-olds should be limited to only one hour of screen time per day, and “less is better,” according to the report.
“The benefits of less screen-based sedentary behavior (TV viewing, watching videos, playing computer games) include reduced [obesity], improved motor and cognitive development and psychosocial health,” the report added.
Experts at the organization issued the warning as scientific evidence continues to build of the potential harms of toddlers and babies looking at screens.
According to research published earlier this year, 1 in 5 toddlers has their own tablet and more than half go online every week.
Children under the age of five spend two hours a day watching TV while 45 percent of them use Netflix or YouTube.
Unfortunately, the WHO’s advice faced criticisms from British experts. Critics said the evidence of the harms are not established enough to warrant guidelines.
“The restricted screen time limits suggested by the WHO do not seem proportionate to the potential harm,” said Dr. Max Davie.
“Our research has shown that currently there is not strong enough evidence to support the setting of screen time limits.
“Also, it is difficult to see how a household with mixed-age children can shield a baby from any screen exposure at all, as is recommended.
“Overall, these WHO guidelines serve as useful benchmarks to help steer families towards active and healthy lifestyles, but without the right support in place, striving for the perfect could become the enemy of the good.”
Dr. Tim Smith also commented on WHO’s advice. “In recent months UK parents and early-years practitioners have been bombarded with conflicting recommendations and guidelines about how and whether they should be managing their children’s screen time and sedentary behavior, e.g. from the RCPCH and Chief Medical Officers.
“The release of new WHO guidelines does not help to clarify the situation.
“While the report makes a potentially helpful step in distinguishing “sedentary screen time” from active screen based games, where physical activity is required, this remains an oversimplification of the many ways young children and their families engage with screen media.”
Dr. Rachael Bedford added: “Unfortunately, empirical evidence of the causal impacts of different uses of screen media on developmental outcomes of very young children is currently lacking.
“Where there is consensus, is in the urgent need for such high-quality evidence to guide policy, particularly in the first few years of life where neural development is at its peak and potential impact of screen use, both positive and negative, may be at its greatest.”
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