Parents have been told to worry less about the use of electronic devices, with guidance from leading paediatricians saying there is little evidence screen use for children is harmful in itself.
The first official guidelines on screen time say parents should avoid letting their children use mobile phones, tablets or computers an hour before bedtime.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said parents need not worry that using the devices is harmful in itself, with the guidance avoiding setting screen time limits.
However, experts said that looking at screens such as phones, tablets or computers in the hour before bed can disrupt sleep and impact children’s health and wellbeing.
Parents are often told that gadgets can pose a risk to their children, but they can be a valuable tool for children to explore the world, the college argues.
Nevertheless, screen time should not replace healthy activities such as exercising, sleeping and spending time with family. The college has also drawn up a guide to help parents judge if their children are using screens in a healthy way.
Dr Max Davie, the college’s officer for health promotion, said: “When it comes to screen time, I think it is important to encourage parents to do what is right by their family.
“However, we know this is a grey area and parents want support. We suggest that age-appropriate boundaries are established, negotiated by parent and child, that everyone in the family understands.
“When these boundaries are not respected, consequences need to be put in place.
“It is also important that adults in the family reflect on their own level of screen time in order to have a positive influence on younger members.”
The college recommended screens were not used for an hour before bedtime due to evidence the devices stimulate the brain.
They also warned that watching screens can distract children from feeling full which, paired with advertising, can lead to higher intake of unhealthy foods.
A recent study from the British Medical Journal said further research was urgently needed to understand the impact of screen use on children and young people’s health and wellbeing.
This warning was based on the rapid increase in screen use by children and young people over the past decade.