The World Health Organization recently published a new set of guidelines for sedentary activity, physical activity, and sleep for children under 5 years old. The guidelines focus on screen time specifically, and they’re not the first organization to do so.
With screens more prevalent in our world than ever, organizations such as the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology have all released their guidelines on limiting screen time in children aged 0-5.
The WHO Says Absolutely Zero Screen Time
No, we're not talking about the 60s rock band. The WHO is the World Health Organization! In their 2019 guidelines, the WHO addresses screen time in the ‘Sedentary Behavior’ section, breaking it down to infants less than 1 year, children 1-2 years of age, and children 3-4 years of age. The WHO is recommending children under 1 should have absolutely zero screen time, and children 1-2 years should have at most 1 hour, if any. For children ages 3-4, they’re recommending screen time for an hour or less per day.
The WHO is also recommending that engaging in reading and storytelling with a parent or caregiver would benefit them most, rather than educational tv programs or apps.
The AAP Says Parents Should Be Co-Viewing
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations are in line with those of WHO, but were published in 2016. Children 0-24 months should avoid using screens of any kind other than video chatting. Within that, if you’re going to allow your 18-24-month-old to use screens, you should ‘co-view’ with them. The AAP recommends children 2-5 should have a limit of 1 hour of screen time per day of educational ‘high quality’ programming.
Their study also makes a suggestion that parents with children of all ages should set clear and consistent media restrictions, including designating media-free times such as dinner or driving, as well as having the bedroom be a media-free location.
The CESP Says Aged 0-2 Means No TV For You
In 2011 the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology released their guidelines for sedentary behavior, the most strict of these 3 organizations. Their study is broken down into 3 main categories: children aged 0-4, children aged 5-11, and children aged 12-17.
Children aged 0-2 should be exposed to zero screen time, whether it's educational tv programs or others. The CESP recommends for children 2-4 that they have a maximum of one hour, though they clearly state none would be best. In their study, they emphasize the number of health risks associated with each age category, with cognitive and psychosocial development being the main focus for children aged 0-4.
What Else Are They Recommending?
The WHO is recommending children 1-4 years old spend at least 180 minutes (3 hours per day) in a variety of physical activities of varying intensity. All three organizations place limitations on prolonged sitting as well, including time spent in high chairs or strollers or strapped onto a caregiver’s back.
The CESP and AAP also touch on older age groups, ranging from 6-17 years old. Limiting 'recreational' media time such as TV, video games or computer use to no more than 2 hours a day. The CESP says following these guidelines can improve self-esteem, cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal fitness, as well as academic achievement.
Are These Guidelines Realistic?
According to a study conducted by Nielsen in 2016, children 2-5 spend an average of 32 hours a week in front of a screen, whereas these organizations are outlining 0-14 hours max, depending on the age. So how realistic is this? Many parents point out online that technology being used in schools is making it hard to restrict screen time, especially with the use of smartboards in classrooms, online portals, and even classroom apps.
Many parents online were also quick to comment negatively, asking what they’re expected to do when trying to manage multiple children, or single-parent households or personal illness. One Facebook user even commented, “Has the WHO ever had a kid tho? Lmao.”