• A POSTnote on screen time in young people will review the evidence on children and young people’s use of devices with screens, examine the links between screen time and poor health outcomes, and present policy implications.
  • Provisional start date November 2019: To contribute expertise, literature or an external reviewer please contact Amelie Ott.

The proliferation of devices with screens, such as televisions, laptops, smartphones and tablets, has led to concern that overuse of such devices by children and young people (high screen time) may have adverse effects on their physical and mental health. Such concerns have led bodies such as the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association to publish guidance recommending that parents limit screen time for young children. For example, WHO guidance recommends that children up to the age of 2 years should be limited to 0 minutes a day screen time, and children between the ages of 2 to 4 years no more than 60 minutes a day.  

However, the evidence base for such recommendations has been questioned. Much of the research in this area has focused on TV screen time, with relatively little focus on the use of social media on newer devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops. Moreover, the nature of the research conducted is that it can only identify associations between screen time and indicators of health; it does not provide evidence of cause and effect.

To date, the available research suggests that high screen time (definitions vary but are typically greater than 2 hours per day) is most commonly associated with high adiposity (for example a higher BMI), an unhealthy diet and depressive symptoms. Taking this evidence into account, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published guidance on screen time for children and young people in 2019. Rather than setting arbitrary limits on screen time based on the child’s age, the guidance recommends that parents negotiate screen time limits with the child according to its individual needs, the ways that screens are used in the household and the extent to which screen use displaces other physical and social activities.

A POSTnote on this subject will outline the evidence on children and young people’s use of devices with screens, examine the strength of the links between screen time and adverse indicators of physical and mental health and explore the implications of the research evidence for public health policy.