Kids digital usage limits need rethinking

Digital guidelines for children have been challenged by new research from Oxford University which has found no consistent link between digital usage limits and children’s wellbeing.

Lead author Oxford Internet Institute’s Dr Andrew Pryzbylski said the findings suggested there was “little or no support for the theory that digital screen use, on its own, is bad for young children’s psychological wellbeing.”

“If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together – are more important than raw screen time,” Dr Pryzbylski said.

“Future research should focus on how using digital devices with parents or care-givers and turning it into a social time can affect children’s psychological wellbeing, curiosity and the bonds with the caregiver involved.”

Researchers used the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) guidelines of one to two hours per day of digital use in childhood as the basis for their study which involved more than 20,000 parent interviews during one month to measure key criteria such as relationships with caregivers, emotional resilience and curiosity.

The study, published in Child Development, could not find a consistent correlation between usage limits and wellbeing.

The authors concluded the AAP guidelines were based on “out-of-date research” which was conducted prior to technology becoming an everyday requirement.

“As a result of this time lapse, they are becoming increasingly difficult to justify and implement,” Dr Pryzbylski said.

“Given we can’t put the digital genie back in the bottle, it’s incumbent on researchers to conduct rigorous, up-to-date research that identifies mechanisms by and the extent to which screen-time exposure might affect children.”

“… current recommendations may need to be re-evaluated and given additional consideration before we can confidently recommend that these digital screen-time limits are good for young children’s mental health and wellbeing.”