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A 2 minute guide to the new Chief Medical Officers' Guidance on ScreenTime

Updated: Mar 1

The government has today released its advice for parents and carers around screen time use. This advice is important because it was asked for by parents and carers (and others!). The report was written by the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (Dr Sally Davies – England, Dr Cath Calderwood – Scotland, Dr Frank Atherton - Wales and Dr Michael Mcbride – Northern Ireland).

I’ve written a summary of the advice to help you understand the true substance of it behind the hype of any headlines you may have seen today. It all boils down to 2 key recommendations.

The report recognizes that the internet and social media can be a force for good in our society, enabling social contact and facilitating the delivery of advice and education. However, there is growing concern about the amount of time children are spending on screens and the mental health impact of that time. There is also concern about exposure to inappropriate and harmful content.

The report recognizes that an association has been seen between those who engage in screen-based activities more frequently and/or over longer periods, and mental health problems. Because of other possible influencing factors it cannot be clear that the screen-based activities are the cause of those problems. however there is a sufficient link for the CMOs to encourage parental caution and the CMOs can be clear that some content being viewed by children online is very harmful.

Therefore the CMOs recommend:

1.Parents adhere to the social media companies’ own age restriction of 13 for accessing social media (note under GDPR 13 a child in the UK cannot give legal consent to joining social media)

2. That extensive existing research about diet, physical activity, quality family time and sleep – which are all strongly associated with healthy development should lead parents’ understanding when developing habits which are important to their family.

These are all summarized in a helpful graphic.

The report notes that young people have repeatedly reported their worries about their parents’ screen use and want them to engage with them, and so adults can lead by example through not using screens excessively in front of children and behaving online as they would in person.

The CMOs also commend the discussion questions for families produced by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to help them make decisions about their screen use:

• Is your family’s screen time under control?

• Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?

• Does screen use interfere with sleep?

• Are you able to control snacking during screen time?


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