Are these new screen time guidelines for children under 5 realistic?

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How many hours of screen time a day do you allow your kids?
How many hours of screen time a day do you allow your kids?

The World Health Organisation recently released guidelines for screen time use for children under the age of 5. One hour, they say, but we're not quite sure how realistic that is. That being said, we completely understand why.

The stats are in: 

  • According to the WHO, at present, over 23% of adults and 80% of adolescents are not sufficiently physically active.  
  • The City of Tshwane also tweeted in August that, according to Healthy Living Alliance, almost 70% of women and 39% of men are overweight in South Africa, while the country has the highest obesity rate in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Also read: Obesity is the number one lifestyle disease: Here’s what you can do to protect your family

  • This has contributed to more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups due to failure to meet current physical activity recommendations, according to WHO. 

With that, for the first time according to TIME, WHO has released their recommendations for children under the age of 5. 

Infants (under one years old) should: 

  • “Be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play; more is better. For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake.”
  • “Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g. prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back). Screen time is not recommended. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.”
  • “Have 14–17h (0–3 months of age) or 12–16h (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.” 

Children (1-2 years old) should: 

  • “Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.”
  • “Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time. For 1-year-olds, sedentary screen time (such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games) is not recommended. For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.”
  • “Have 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.” 

Children (3-4 years old) should:  

  • “Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.”
  • “Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.”
  • “Have 10–13h of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.” 


Also read: WATCH: A new exercise guideline says we should get kids moving at age 3

WHO’s guidelines has much to do with their research proving that establishing healthy habits early on will be carried through to adulthood.  

Dr Fiona Bull, programme manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases at WHO, explains, “Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and well being, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life.” 

They therefore place specific emphasis on the importance of play – and we’re not talking about the kind of play you do on a tablet or smartphone.  

Before WHO released the above guidelines, The American Academy of Pediatrics had guidelines of their own, which they also amended recently taking phones and tablets into consideration. They now also recommend children between the ages of 2 and 5 are to have no more than an hour a day. 


Also read: What is an appropriate screen time limit for teens? We could be back to square one


That being said, an hour of screen time a day? We’re all for it – we're just wondering if, in a modern, digital world, is it possible? 

It’s easier said than done when you’ve got a toddler and the only way you can get a little peace and quiet is to YouTube their favourite episode of Munki and Trunk. But considering the implications later in life, we have to do our utmost to at least try to stick to these guidelines and recommendations.

Chat back

Do you think the above guidelines are practical and realistic? Tell us and we may publish your comments. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous? 

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