UK’s chief medical officers offer new advice on children’s screen-time

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Parents looking for authoritative advice on how to manage their children’s use of technology have a new source today: a document published by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), offering their commentary on a study they commissioned last year from researchers at University College London.

It isn’t the ‘your kids should have a MAXIMUM of X hours a day’ recommendation that you might have been hoping for, but rather advice on how to approach the general area of technology use by children and young people (CYP in the report’s vernacular). For example:

“We encourage parents and carers to agree boundaries, outside of school and educational use, with CYP around online behaviours and time spent using screens. Studies have reported that CYP are worried about their parent’s screen use and want them to engage with them, and so adults can lead by example through not using screens excessively in front of children and behaving online as they would in person.”

It also refers back to a recent report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (we wrote about it in January) with its list of four key questions that will help you to understand whether screen-time is playing a healthy or harmful role in your family – to recap: Is screen time in your household controlled? Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do? Does screen use interfere with sleep? And are you able to control snacking during screen time?

There’s a good page in the CMOs’ report with some short practical tips for parents, too. They include leaving children’s phones outside the bedroom when it’s bedtime (a policy that can apply just as well to parents!); making sure your kids understand and respect their school’s rules on phone usage; advising children to put their screens away when “crossing the road or doing an activity that needs their full attention”; and keeping meal-times screen-free for the entire family.

Other tips include talking to your children about “sharing sensibly” on social networks, to help them understand that “photos and words are sometimes manipulated” — but also not to assume your children are happy for you to share photos of them online.

The CMOs also want parents to talk to their kids about what they’re watching on screens, and whether it’s bothering them. “A change in behaviour can be a sign they are distressed – make sure they know they can always speak to you or another responsible adult if they feel uncomfortable with screen or social media use,” it advises.

Finally, the report recommends taking a break after a couple of hours sitting or lying down using a screen (again: parents too!) and using the features on smartphones to see how much time you and your children have been using the devices – Apple’s Screen Time and Google’s Digital Wellbeing (for Android phones) are the way to do this.