The use of screens by children under 5 years can be harmful for their development

Medical content revised by - Last revision 24/07/2019
The use of screens by children under 5 years can be harmful for their development

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Every time more children use mobile phones or computers to play. Although in some cases they can be used for educational purposes, excessive use from an early age has been associated with difficulties in development, obesity, sleeping problems and the correct development of vision.

In this sense, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently published an article in which it explains that, for children to grow up healthy, they need to spend less time sitting and longer playing actively. In addition, WHO has shared a series of recommendations for children under 5 with advice on how much time they should spend in front of a screen.

These new guidelines were developed by a WHO expert committee, which evaluated the effects that screen time has on children. According to these experts, if these recommendations are established from an early age, they can help shape habits throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

We share some of these recommendations:

Infants younger than 1 year old:

  • It is not recommended that they remain in front of a screen (neither television, nor tablet, nor a mobile phone). When sedentary it is recommended that someone reads or tells them stories with simple figures.
  • They should remain active as far as possible, for example playing on the floor, and not sit or be strained for more than an hour at a time. Younger babies should remain in the prone position (tummy time) for 30 minutes throughout the day.

Children of 1 year of age:

  • It is not recommended that they spend a long time doing sedentary activities, such as watching TV, playing video games, and so on. In moments of inactivity someone should read or tell them stories.
  • They should spend around 3 hours doing physical activities of any intensity. At this age, they are discovering that they are able to reach places that until now they could not. The mere fact of crawling trying to avoid obstacles is already considered a great activity.

Children of 2 years of age:

  • They can do a maximum of 1 hour of sedentary activities in front of a screen. The less time they spend the better.
  • It is recommended that they spend 3 hours doing physical activities of any intensity.

Children between 3 and 4 years old:

  • They shouldn’t spend more than 1 hour in front of a screen. The less time they spend the better.
  • It is recommended that they perform 3 hours of physical activity of any intensity, of which 1 hour should be of moderate to high intensity.

Effects of excessive screen use

Not following these guidelines and using screens excessively could have consequences for the correct development of the child, such as:

In recent decades, the number of people with myopia has increased dramatically. According to a study published by the journal Ophthalmology, part of this increase is related to short-distance activities, not only those directly related to the use of screens, but with the time spent doing indoor activities in general. The study also found that spending longer in the open, especially at an early age, can delay the progression of myopia.

  • Visual fatigue

Visual fatigue refers to the symptoms that appear after spending a very long time in front of a screen. Symptoms may include dryness or itching, blurred vision, or headache. To avoid these symptoms, it is necessary to blink frequently and raise the view to look at a distance of 20 feet for at least 20 seconds.

  • Sleep disorders or disturbed sleep

Using screens before bedtime negatively affects sleep, the circadian cycle, and the mental agility of the next day.

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