The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that children under age 5 spend one hour or less on digital devices and those under age 1 spend no time at all on a daily basis.
Among its other recommendations: children should spend more time engaged in physical activity and getting enough sleep. The WHO study refers to sedentary screen time, which includes watching television or videos, or playing computer games.
WHO’s screen time recommendations by age:
- Infant (less than 1 year of age): Screen time is not recommended.
- 1-2 years of age: No screen time for a 1-year-old. No more than an hour for 2-year-olds, with less time preferred.
- 3 to 4 years old: No more than one hour.
Sedentary behavior by youngsters has been identified as a risk factor in global mortality and has contributed to the rise in obesity, the guidelines say.
“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said upon the guidelines’ release. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”
Said Fiona Bull, WHO programme manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases: “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.”
Link between vision and inactivity
Developing the ability to “use” vision starts at birth. When a baby watches a parent form words or point to objects, their actions lead to development of a baby’s “looking” process, which fosters their internal curiosity, he says. That curiosity leads to the baby wanting to get to an object out of reach and a desire to move toward it.
When an infant sees a parent looking at an object and follows their gaze to that object by 12 months of age, they will be able to identify 335 words by 18 months of age. When they do not follow the parent’s gaze, they will only be able to identify 197 words by 18 months of age. Vision triggers curiosity, which triggers movement and exploration.
Hands-on exploration is one of the ways children learn.
Consequences of too much screen time, being sedentary
Studies also have shown that being sedentary can have significant developmental consequences. Among them:
- Children are less likely to have the fine motor skills necessary for writing when entering kindergarten.
- Vocabulary, communication skills and eye contact are reduced.
- Developmental delays are documented with increased device use. Screen time, for instance, has been linked to ADHD symptoms (self-regulation).
- Attention, decision-making and cognitive control are reduced.
- Creativity also suffers. Screen time interferes with problem solving.
- Psychiatric disorders reported.
- A premature thinning of the cortex based on brain scans.
Canadian researchers found in a study published online Jan. 28 in JAMA Pediatrics that 2- and 3-year-old children watched television for respectively 2.4 and 3.6 hours a day. Further, the authors linked excessive TV watching to “poorer performance on developmental screening tests,” which may partially explain why children are not developmentally ready for starting school.
Although excessive screen time is not solely an “eye problem,” its effects are readily apparent during a comprehensive eye examination through observation of pupil size and assessment of accommodative function,