According to UNICEF's lead researcher on child internet use, online safety and child rights, digital media has become the primary means through which young people play, communicate, receive, create, share information, and express themselves. Young people explore their identities online, access health information and sources of advice and counselling, learn about their rights, report abuse or violations, express opinions and engage civically and politically with governments and the world around them.
UK Chief Medical Officers have highlighted concerns that the amount of time children spend engaged in screen-based activities may be detrimental to their physical and mental health. There are also concerns about the content that they are viewing and its impact on their mental health . Some internet content is clearly inappropriate or harmful for children and yet they may still be able to access it should they seek it, or may inadvertently access it.
Technology should be used in moderation, with support and interaction from adults and with age appropriate activities. It is important that children take part in a balance of different non-screen activities too. Parents & teachers should be aware of screen time guidelines and the impact too much screen time may have on health & academic performance.
In the UK children aged between 5‐16 years spend an average of 2-3 hours per day watching television, 1-3 hours on the internet, 1-2 hour playing video games and over an hour on mobile phones (not talk), a total of 6.3 hours of screen time per day.
Under General Data Protection Regulation, in the UK only children aged 13 or over are able provide their own legal consent. Most social media companies have set an age restriction of 13 years of age to access and use their services.
Screen Time Guidelines
The World Health Organisation recommends:
- 0 - 18 months - avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.
- 18 - 24 months introduce digital media of high-quality programming, and watch with parents to help them understand what they're seeing.
- 2 - 5 yrs screen use should be limited to 1 hour per day (high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them)
- 6 years + consistent limits should be placed on the time spent using media, and on the types of media, and to make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
- Spend designated media-free time together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.