How Much Screen Time Is Good For Children? World Health Organization Answers

In this photograph illustration a ten-year-old boy uses an Apple Ipad tablet computer on November 29, 2011 in Knutsford, United Kingdom.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its first-ever guidelines as to how much screen time is good for babies and children under 5, and their recommendations suggest that the less time young ones spend watching screens of any kind, the better it is for them.

According to the report, babies 1 year old or younger should not have any “passive” screen time — meaning watching a television, computer, or mobile device for entertainment purposes. Children aged 2 to 4 should have no more than one hour of screen time per day.

“Children under five must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy,” the report said.

The new guidelines were developed by a panel of experts who assessed how time spent sitting and watching screens affected children. These experts also observed the consequences of inadequate sleep, how time spent restrained in chairs affected children, and the benefits of increased activity levels.

The report stressed the importance of an active life, which can only happen when one is not looking at a screen.

“Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life,” said Fiona Bull, a program manager with the WHO.

The guidelines are similar to those issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a body which also recommended limiting screen time for children. Their guidelines suggested that children under 18 months old avoid screen time, except for video chats. The organization also recommended no more than one hour of screen time for children under 5, and suggested that any screen time should be of “high quality.”

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Furthermore, the AAP suggested that parents of children over 6 should place “consistent limits” on time spent using media, and “make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”

Both organizations emphasized the importance of children having active lives, paired with adequate rest.

“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” said Juana Willumsen, a technical officer with the WHO. “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep.”

The WHO guidelines said that applying the recommendations suggested during the first five years of life would improve children’s motor skills and cognitive development, as well as their lifelong health.