Parenting in the digital age can be mind-boggling for anyone with a young child or teenager, but the U.K.’s chief medical officer has some plain and simple advice: ban screens from bedtimes and the dinner table.
The recommendations are a response to recent research compiled by a University College London team. The government advice encourages carving out time for things other than devices, such as the importance of talking as a family during mealtimes and encouraging children to be open about any worries they have regarding online safety and cyber-bullying.
Other simple measures include encouraging children to not use their phones when doing an activity that requires concentration and making sure they take a break every two hours.
It’s not just the children either: the study stresses that parents should be aware of their position as role models and police their own screen time — while also never assuming that their children are happy to have their pictures shared on social media.
While some guidelines, such as those issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggest keeping screen time to an hour a day for 2 to 5-year-olds, the U.K. also focuses on what kids might be missing out on if they spend too much time on screens. This includes time spent processing their day with their parents, exercising, sleeping, or looking both ways before crossing the street.
A report late last year found that American children were coming up short on sleep and exercise, perhaps due to too much time spent on screens.
Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health are now scanning the brains of children while they use social media and following a cohort of children as they grow up alongside the Internet and digital devices, so there may one day be more solid science on what the effects of screens and social media might be.
One thing’s for sure, however: cell phone screens aren’t going away any time soon, so this will remain a perennial problem for parents.