Health officials worry that too much time on electronic devices is bad for kids, and grandparents aren’t helping matters
In the spring, the World Health Organization (WHO) released new guidelines for screen time–the amount of time one spends staring at a smartphone, tablet, TV, or computer. As more research is done to study the effect of screen time on childrens’ brains, WHO now recommends that children between the ages of two and four spend no more than one hour a day in front of a screen. They also say parents should avoid exposing infants to screens at all costs.
While studies have yet to conclude definitively that screen time has a negative effect on children’s development, the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2016 released a similar set of recommendations, saying that too much screen time stands to limit the amount of time children spend being active, talking, learning, and sleeping.
Grandparents also need to be more aware of the risks: a new study from Rutgers University suggests that they often don’t set enough boundaries when babysitting their grandchildren.
Researchers surveyed grandparents who take care of grandchildren at least once a week and learned that children tend to spend half of their time under their grandparents’ care in front of a screen. The study, published in the Journal of Children and Media, found that children aged four to five spent about 106 minutes on average in front of an electronic device, while children between six and seven had an average of 143 minutes of screen time with grandparents.
If parents want to set firm rules about how much time their children spend watching TV or using phones, communication about those rules with grandparents and babysitters is one key to success. Even if screen time itself is found not to harm young children, the earlier healthy habits are taught, the more likely these habits will continue into adolescence and adulthood.
“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” said WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”