Chris Bennett: Opportunity missed with screen time advice
Author: Chris Bennett
It was with no small measure of despair that the first ever guidance on screen time for children was issued early in the New Year.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health gleefully announced that there was no evidence that TVs, phones and tablets were toxic to child health. This was interpreted by most media outlets that parents should worry less about children’s screen use (BBC) or that there is no direct evidence that screen time is bad for kids (Sky).
What was picked up on from the guidelines was advice to limit kid’s screen use before bedtime. The overriding message was that parents should negotiate screen use so technology lived around family time and not the other way around. Good luck with that one.
Dig a little deeper and the RCPCH did talk about IT’s detrimental displacement of other activities but many parents would have welcomed some more robust anti-screen advice.
For the optical profession it’s disappointing indeed that the optical impact of screen use didn’t even get a mention despite knowledge of digital eyestrain and the 20/20/20 campaign.
Health priorities can often be queer fish, no mention of vision, but the report highlighted overuse of social media as a risk to mental health. The Government is already drawing up guidelines of its own in this area.
On the other side of the world China’s President Xi Jinping has called for greater national attention to optical health. China has taken steps to limit the time children spend e-gaming in the light of obsessive levels of participation and 80% levels of myopia among the young.
Technology moves faster than research. There may not be evidence to show physiological detriment to the eyes but the social, cognitive and behavioural impact of toddlers being allowed unfettered access to screens is a matter of common sense. An opportunity missed.