How much ‘screen time’ should kids have? (And is social media bad for their health?)

Kids social media use screen time

There are many, many joys to being a parent, but trying to police your children’s ‘screen time’ is, it’s fair to say, not one of them.

As they move seamlessly from television to smartphone to tablet to laptop (and, given half a chance, back again), what started out as being cute has accelerated into a never-ending quest to find that sweet-spot where you don’t feel they’re spending all their time in front of a screen.

Add social media to the mix as they get older and it’s even more of a minefield, as age limitations are circumvented and duplicate accounts created in a bid to fool parents.

Much of that is simply traditional teenage strategies adapted to the digital age.

But what has radically changed is the availability of content, from YouTube to free games apps to catch-up TV to multiple social media ‘firehoses’, there’s never been so much screen-based content available to kids.

And much like the ‘whack a mole’ fairground game, just as parents get to grips with one screen another pops up to take its place (Messenger For Kids, anyone?).

So the recently-announced House of Commons inquiry on the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health will be one to watch with interest.

The Science and Technology Committee’s wide-ranging inquiry will cover area such as:

  • The effects of social media and screen-use on young people’s physical and mental well-being, and any gaps in the evidence
  • The well-being benefits, and the physical/mental harms, from social media usage
  • Any measures being used, or needed, to mitigate any potential harmful effects of excessive screen-use
  • The extent of awareness of any risks, and how awareness could be increased for particular groups – from children to schools to social media companies
  • What measures, controls or regulation are needed, and where responsibility and accountability for this should lie.

It’s not the first time the government’s taken aim at children’s use of technology, with last year’s Digital 5 A Day campaign being one of the most recent initiatives.

But with half of those aged 9-15 using smartphones on a daily basis, and conflicting evidence on the impact of ‘screens’ on kids’ health, any evidence-based guidance for digital parenting would be very welcome.

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