World Health Organization Says That Children Under 5 Should Have Limited or No Screen Time

At one time, it was exciting to connect young children with technological devices for the first time. It goes way beyond TV, and our tablets, phones, and laptops have become a tool for entertaining, educating, and for some, babysitting.

How exciting is it to see a babbling toddler listen to a story on an iPad? No matter how much parents like or appreciate screen time, the World Health Organization wants us to know that we need to cut it back for the little ones.

The organization has issued a new set of guidelines regarding kids’ health and sedentary activities. Particularly for children under 5, it is critical that parents set children up with good habits so that they learn to become active at an early age.

WHO experts – which include a panel of physicians – want to encourage less time in front of screens and more time at play. They cite the high rates of obesity, mental health issues, and inadequate sleep as major health problems that can impact cognitive development as well as the body.

Dr. Fiona Bull, a program manager at WHO, said this:

“Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and well-being, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life.”

In addition to limiting or eliminating exposure to screens, the group also warns that children should not be placed in restrictive positions for long periods of time. Namely, strollers, high chairs, and play pens create sedentary, restrictive environments.

Here are some of the recommendations according to age group:

Babies under 12 months old:

  • No screen time. Limit restrained positions to one hour or less (stroller, high chair, baby carrier devices) per day. 12 to 17 hours of sleep per day.

12 to 24 months:

  • The WHO suggests no screen time for 1-year-olds and no more than one hour for 2-year-olds. Instead, activities with a caregiver and play time of at least two to three hours per day is recommended.

Ages 3 to 4:

  • Again, one hour or less of screen time is the recommendation. Physical activity that is spread throughout the day for a total of three hours or so is ideal. Aim for 10 to 14 hours of sleep with naps and a regular bedtime.

The screen time guidelines apply to all forms of “passive viewing,” including watching TV/videos and playing games. Reading, talking, or playing games that involve physical movements (or just acting goofy) will help children develop healthy habits, as will making sure they clock in their z’s consistently. Firm bedtimes make a difference!

Currently, there is no study on record that can or has assessed the long term effects of extended or limited screen time. Some pediatric experts say that it all depends on how parents and other caregivers use such technology with their children.

If it’s engaging, meaningful, and encourages interaction, it may not be a bad thing, some say. But one thing they do agree on is that sitting around for hours at a time does not do the brain or body any good.

What do you think of the WHO’s guidelines? Is screen time above or below these limits in your household? Are you struggling with sedentary screen time for your young children?