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Limit children's screen time

The amount of time children spend in front of screens should be limited to avoid development and health problems, an expert says.

Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman says children of all ages are watching more screen media than ever, and starting earlier. The average 10-year-old has access to five different screens at home, and some are becoming addicted to them or depressed as a result.

Writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr Sigman says a child born today will have spent a full year glued to screens by the time they reach the age of seven.

He adds: "In addition to the main family television, for example, many very young children have their own bedroom TV along with portable hand-held computer game consoles (eg, Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox), smartphone with games, internet and video, a family computer and a laptop and/or a tablet computer (eg iPad). Children routinely engage in two or more forms of screen viewing at the same time, such as TV and laptop."

British teenagers are clocking up six hours of screen time a day, but research suggests the negative impacts start after two hours' viewing time. He says prolonged screen time can lead to reductions in attention span because of its effects on the brain chemical dopamine.

"Screen 'addiction' is increasingly being used by physicians to describe the growing number of children engaging in screen activities in a dependent manner," Dr Sigman says.

And there are other psychosocial problems associated with excess screen time. These include "Facebook depression", reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which develops when young people spend too much time on social media sites and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.

He says there are many questions remaining about the precise nature of the association between screen time and adverse outcomes, but adds: "The advice from a growing number of both researchers and medical associations and government departments elsewhere is becoming unequivocal - reduce screen time."

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