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Screen Time Guidelines

The Chief Medical Advisers to the government have studied independent research carried out by University College London, on ‘screen-based activities’, including watching videos online, social media use, gaming and similar activities, in connection to the mental health of children and young people.

What does the guidance recommend parents do?

There are several clear steps for parents, which the chief medical officers say will help keep children safe and healthy.

These include:

  • not using phones and mobile devices at the dinner table – talking as a family is very important for development
  • keeping screens out of the bedroom at bedtime
  • talking as a family about keeping safe online and about cyber-bulling and what children should do if they are worried
  • not using phones when crossing a road or doing any other activity that requires a person’s full attention
  • making sure children take a break from screens every two hours by getting up and being active
  • policing their own use too – parents should give their children proper attention and quality family time and never assume they are happy for pictures to be shared


UK Medical Advice


They also added that industry must do more to keep children safe. The evidence does not prove a clear link between screen-based activities and mental health conditions. But children are being exposed to inappropriate content, sadly highlighted by the link between Instagram and the suicide of Molly Russell.

Digital technologies can be a force for good, aiding online learning, socialising and helping people manage health conditions.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical adviser wants to see technology companies invest in systems that properly vet the ages of users – a number of platforms require users to be 13 but these were not properly policed, she said.

The guidance is also critical of what it calls “persuasive design”. This refers to techniques used to encourage addictive behaviour, including collecting likes and rewards for performing actions such as sharing pictures.

She would like social media companies to develop better algorithms to push positive content to users. For example, when people search for “Self-harm” or “suicide”, should generate content that promotes help-lines and where to go for support.

Facebook has welcomed the guidance and said it wants people to be safe online. Twitter has introduced 70 changes in 2018 to provide healthier and safer content.

The ThinkUKnow website is the online education programme from the National Crime Agency with age appropriate content for Children and adults: https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk

There’s also helpful tips for children, young people and adults at https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/