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World Health Organisation issues rules for kids' screen time

The World Health Organisation has issued strict new guidelines for parents on one of their most difficult decisions – how much screen time should children have.

Emerging scientific studies were used by the international health agency in the 36-page report aimed at helping parents with children under the age of five.

They say children under the age of two should have no screen time whatsoever, and children aged two to four should spend no more than an hour a day in front of a screen.

Experts in child development say the acquisition of language and social skills, typically by interacting with parents and others, are among the most important cognitive tasks of childhood.

A recent Australian study found parents are allowing their preschool-aged children to spend about 3.7 hours a day in front of a screen.

The rules also dictate the optimum hours of “good quality” sleep children should be getting — ranging from 17 hours for newborns to 10 hours for toddlers.

It also recommends that children aged three to four be physically active for up to three hours a day.

“The absolute priority for very young children has to be on face-to-face interactions, physical exercise and sleep,” said psychologist Jean Twenge.

“I think the temptation to hand young children a phone or a tablet any time they fuss is misguided. Children need to learn how to self-soothe and manage their emotions. And if they’re frequently handed these devices, they don’t learn these things.”

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Recommendations at a glance:

Infants (less than 1 year) should:

  • Be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play; more is better. For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake. 
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g. prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back). Screen time is not recommended. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 14–17h (0–3 months of age) or 12–16h (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.

 Children 1-2 years of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time. For 1-year-olds, sedentary screen time (such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games) is not recommended. For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times. 

Children 3-4 years of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged. 
  • Have 10–13h of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

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