No screen time for children under two, parents told
ALL children under the age of two should be banned from spending any time passively watching TV or other screens, according to tough new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
The new protocols also advise parents to reduce screen time for two to four-year-olds to no more than an hour a day amid concerns about the damage this may be doing to developing brains.
The guidelines have been welcomed by Australian experts, who agree that allowing preschool-aged children to spend hours staring at screens robs them of crucial cognitive and social development. Instead of screen time, the WHO is encouraging parents to "engage in reading and storytelling" when children are sitting down.
The rules also dictate the optimum hours of "good quality" sleep children should be getting - ranging from 17 hours for newborns to 10 hours for toddlers.
And parents should limit the time children of all ages are "restrained" in prams to no more than an hour at a time and ensure the older little ones, aged three to four, are physically active for up to three hours a day.
A recent Australian study found parents are allowing their preschool-aged children to spend about 3.7 hours a day in front of a screen.
And the WHO's prevention of non-communicable diseases manager, Dr Fiona Bull, said reducing "sedentary" time on screens could reduce childhood obesity.
She urged mums and dads to reduce the time kids under five spent sitting passively watching screens and restrained in prams as well as boosting their sleep and "active" play time.
The WHO's director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said healthy habits had to be adopted early in life.
"Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people's lives," Dr Ghebreyesus said.
"Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains."
The guidelines state that children between one and two years of age should spend at least 180 minutes doing physical activity and children aged between three and four should do the same but it must include 60 minutes of vigorous movement.
Western Sydney University early childhood learning expert Dr Joanne Orlando said screen time in their very early years deprived children of the opportunity to do other activities which are crucial for cognitive and social development.
"Studies have shown for children who spend long hours on a screen the opportunity to develop language skills is dramatically reduced," Dr Orlando said, adding that some screen time, such as watching shows like Play School, could have educational benefits for young children.
Digital health expert Dr Kristy Goodwin said parents may struggle to reduce their children's screen time to seven hours a week, with 2017 research finding preschoolers spent an average of 26 hours a week glued to screens.
She said "techno tantrums" were common as playing games on screens released "feel-good" chemicals like dopamine in the brain.
Willoughby mum Patti Khourouzian struggles to limit screentime for her eldest son Johnathan, 3, who can act up when he is denied access.
She tries to only let him loose when his 16-month-old brother Sebastian is asleep as the younger sibling is yet to have any screen time.
"(Jonathan's) tantrums, he is like an addict, it is to the point sometimes he'll vomit, he'll work himself up crying and screaming," she said.
The De Clara family limit screen time for their kids, Poppy, 3, and Willow, 1.
"I don't think it's necessary and we don't really let them go on them … we're very conscious of it," Andrew De Clara said.