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Colin Sure Start, Belfast

Parenting in a Digital World - Screen Time - What are the Recommendations for Under 3s?

22nd Jun 2023

Parenting is one of the most time consuming and challenging things that any of us will go through in our lives. Being responsible for meeting the needs of a child, particularly in the early years is very demanding and trying to get it right and give our children the best start is something we all want, but can also cause stress and anxiety. This is particularly true now in the digital age, as parents have to deal with not just TV time, but media is now viewed and engaged with through all sorts of devices - smart phones, tablets and ipads, laptops and pcs and many other digital devices - and they are everywhere!

Its important for parents to know what the guidance is for children under 1, and from age 1-2 around Screen Time, and also to understand why the guidance is in place. 

0-1 Years Old: 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children under 12 months of age do not have any screen time to grow up healthy. This is because the first 12 months are a critical time in a childs physical, mental and social development - they need lots of opportunities to develop their coordination and muscle development, such as tummy time on a play mat; the WHO recommends at least 30 minutes per day of this type of activity for healthy development. They also need lots of interaction with others - stories, peekaboo games, face-to-face engagement in play activities as these are how they develop the building blocks of communication and social interactions that are key to their developing brains. The window of opportunity for this kind of brain development, when the brain is making the most connections, is short, Its important as parents that we remember that children will have plenty of time when older to watch screens - and any time that we as their care givers devote during this window to real play, interaction and activity is a massive investment in their future! Its one of the best gifts you can give to your child.

1-2 Years Old:

For this age the WHO recommends no more than 1 hour of screen time per day, and at least 180 minutes in a 'variety of types of physical activity' which is can be spread out over the day. This is because 'sedentary' activity - which is when a child is physically inactive (which is what screen time is) does not encourage the muscle growth, play skills and engagement with real-world objects and people which is absolutely crucial to childrens healthy development at this age. They need activities that they can develop their thinking and imagination, curiosity and confidence - engaging their minds and actively 'doing' it themselves, not watching someone else do it on a screen. This is why in all our groups and programmes we are promoting these types of play and activity. It doesnt have to be expensive either - children will happily play with low-cost or no-cost items in the home or outside, old kitchen utensils can quickly turn into a mud kitchen or shop; old cardboard boxes can become a great activity in building something. The main thing your child is looking for is you as a parent getting involved, communicating, taking an interest and valuing this kind of activity. It can be hard at first, as its much easier to put a child in front of the TV or give them an ipad - it certainly seems to 'entertain' them and will keep them quiet for a time. But long term, they are missing out. The development of their own physical and thinking capacity, and confidence in their own abilities will only come with active real play. But we can all form good habits, and putting the screens away and getting involved is really rewarding as a parent too!

If you would like to find out more about screen time and recommendations or practical advice, here are links to the WHO guidance, and also other advice on the impact of screen time on children in the early years.,to%20four%2Dyear%2Dolds.

Remember - it is not easy, and we are here to help, we have lots of groups and activities taking place on a regular basis that will support your child with these types of activities, and also home support service as well. Remember, just taking one small step or making one change at a time can make a big difference!