Swedish doctors have taken a firm stance on children’s screen time: kids under the age of two should not be using smartphones, tablets, or watching television.
The Swedish Association of Pediatricians has issued new guidelines aimed not only at influencing national policy but also at encouraging parents to play a more active role in managing their children’s media use.
“Although digital screens can present useful information, provide entertainment and provide opportunities for contact with other people, young children’s brains are not yet mature enough to absorb their benefits,” wrote the experts.
“On the contrary, research shows that children’s development can be negatively affected by the early use of digital screens.”
For toddlers and preschoolers aged two to five, the association has recommended capping screen time to one hour per day. This aligns with concerns experts have raised globally about the effects of screen time on the developing minds of children.
Guiding children in responsible media use is likened to teaching good dietary habits or road safety – fundamental elements of early childhood education.
The advice follows observations from healthcare professionals that early use of digital screens could have a negative impact on children’s development.
The report notes that young children’s brains are ill-equipped to filter and comprehend the information from digital screens beneficially. Instead, there is evidence that such exposure can lead to irritability, poor concentration, and even behavioral problems or childhood depression in the long term.
“Unlike books, digital media often has built-in reinforcement mechanisms that make even young children increasingly want to use the screen,” the report said.
“There is a high risk that digital media will be used when the child is bored or when adults are unavailable and therefore act as a babysitter.”
“Since digital media often contains fast cuts and transitions, intense colors and sounds, there is an increased risk of developing a sensitivity to immediate rewards.”
These recommendations from Sweden come after Denmark’s similar restrictive measures and the World Health Organization’s 2019 guidelines, which also proposed limited screen time for young children.
The consensus is growing that early childhood exposure to screens can have detrimental effects, although there is a counter-narrative from some British experts and reports suggesting the risks might be overestimated and that digital screens have become an integral part of education.
The Covid-19 pandemic significantly increased screen time for children due to lockdowns and remote schooling, highlighting the need for guidelines.
In Britain, where there are no detailed screen time guidelines for very young children, there is a recommendation for a two-hour daily limit for all children, with a cautious approach endorsed by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer.
The Swedish Association of Pediatricians is pushing for a cultural shift in how screen time is managed for young children, emphasizing the potential long-term developmental hazards. These guidelines are meant to steer not just parents, but also policymakers, toward more stringent controls on the media consumption of the youngest members of society.
With digital media becoming more pervasive, it appears to be a global challenge to strike a balance between the benefits and drawbacks of our increasingly digital lives.
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