It’s Not A ‘Babysitter’: Paediatricians Call For Restrictions On Screen Usage Among Children

A baby holding a mobile phone

Paediatricians have expressed growing concerns about mobile usage. Credit: Freepik

Paediatricians have expressed growing concerns about the impact of technology use on children’s well-being.

In response, the Spanish Association of Paediatrics (AEP) has developed a Family Digital Plan, offering recommendations to help parents educate their children on technology usage. The AEP advises parents and guardians to promote activities such as sleep, meals, and non-screen playtime, as excessive screen use diminishes family togetherness time and disrupts children’s sleep patterns.

The plan, created in collaboration with the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD), can be tailored to suit individual family and child needs based on age, reported El Pais.

“The digital world, encompassing tablets, television, smartphones, impacts not only children and adolescents but spans throughout one’s lifetime,” cautioned María Salmerón Ruiz, coordinator of the AEP Health Promotion Committee’s Digital Health working group.

“However, this population is particularly vulnerable and sensitive, and the impact extends across all areas, including physical, social, psychological, and even sexual”, added Dr. Salmerón, who jointly presented the plan during  a press conference on Thursday.

Paediatricians recommend monitoring both the duration and location of technology usage.

The plan, which families can customise to suit their unique circumstances, advises that children under two years of age should entirely avoid screen use; those aged three to five should limit usage to less than one hour per day, and those aged five and above should use screens for less than two hours daily.

“Providing a mobile phone to a nine-year-old without time restrictions is akin to letting them drive a Ferrari without a licence at 200 kilometres per hour,” stated Mar España Martí, the director of the AEPD.

Furthermore, Salmerón explained that the best locations for screen use are communal areas within the family home.

“There’s a higher risk when screens are used in places like bathrooms or bedrooms”

The guidelines of the Family Digital Plan also target parents, encouraging them to set an example and assist their children in responsible device usage.

Recommendations include setting time limits, designating screen-free zones, refraining from using devices as substitutes for supervision, and periodically reviewing content.

Guillermo Martín Carballo, Vice President of Primary Care at the AEP, summarised it by saying, “Children pay more attention to what we parents do than what we say.”

Among the primary risks associated with excessive screen use, experts have highlighted neurodevelopmental issues, particularly among children under two.

There are also issues with cyberbullying.

In Spain, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that seven out of ten children experience some form of bullying or cyberbullying daily.

Between January 2021 and February 2022, 11,229 serious cases of bullying were recorded, positioning Spain as one of the European countries with the highest incidence of bullying. Salmerón explained that these problems can lead to “attention difficulties, sleep disturbances, eating problems, and reduced physical activity.”

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Written by

Jo Pugh

Jo Pugh is a journalist based in the Costa Blanca North. Originally from London, she has been involved in journalism and photography for 20 years. She has lived in Spain for 12 years, and is a dedicated and passionate writer.