How Much Sedentary Screen Time Should Our Babies and Young Ones Have?

By Hannah Schenker

You are feeling frazzled. In your sleep-deprived state, you are trying to deal with a baby you can’t put down, a toddler who is losing it, and you are feeling anxious because everywhere you look there is a mess that needs to be cleaned up. It’s so simple to sit your little ones down in front of the TV or iPad – it gives you that breathing space you so desperately need, right? But how much is too much?

This is a debate that has been raging for years, as we come to terms with the impact that screens and devices are having on our lives. We all know that it can’t be good to spend too much time on screens at such a young age. Children are meant to be on the move – exploring space with their bodies, developing their fine and gross motor skills, not just sitting there on the couch staring at a screen. Physical activity is important for ALL of us. We know this, yet devices are part of our lives now – there’s just no getting away from that fact. Getting off the screens and being more active has numerous health benefits. But when it comes to our littlest children – just how much do they need?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued new health guidelines for children under five years old – on physical activity, sedentary time and sleep.

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

  • Infants (less than 1 year) 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.
  • Children 1-2 years of age should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Children 3-4 years of age should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety 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.

SEDENTARY TIME – INCLUDING SCREEN TIME

  • Infants (less than 1 year) should not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., in 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.
  • Children 1-2 years of age should not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., in 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.
  • Children 3-4 years of age should not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., in 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.

SLEEP TIME During a 24-hour period:

  • Infants (less than 1 year) should 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 of age should have 11-14h of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times;
  • Children 3-4 years of age should have 10-13h of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

How does that stack up with your children’s time spent being active, being sedentary and sleeping? Are your under-one-year-olds screen free? And any older children limited to an hour or less a day? 

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