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Screen Time Guidelines for Young Children

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued its first-ever set of guidelines for how much time young children should spend sitting and looking at a screen. The guidelines advise that children under 1 year should not have any screen time and children from 2-4 years old should have no more than one hour of screen time each day.

Time’s Magazine’s summary of the guidelines notes that they are in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 18 months should avoid screens (other than using video chats). However, a difference between the two guidelines is that the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes that when children use screens, it is important to consider that watching high-quality educational programming, especially with the support and presence of an adult, can be beneficial.

The Atlantic’s article summarizing WHO’s advice notes that by limiting children’s sedentary time in front of a screen gives children more opportunity for active play and physical development. This is important, particularly in light of a 2017 survey by Common Sense Media, which found that half of the 3-to-5-year-olds in the United States stare at screens for more than two hours every day, and a quarter of those children engage in daily screen time that actually exceeds four hours.

A criticism of the WHO guidelines is its emphasis on the amount of time spent on screens, as opposed to the content being watched. However, the WHO’s overall message is an important one: that children should spend more time actively engaged in play that supports physical, cognitive, and social development, and little or no time sitting alone and staring at screens.

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