Thanks to the phones at our fingertips and the cars on our roads, today human beings can do so much in a day without actually moving very much at all, and we know this is having a negative impact on our health.
The World Health Organization is worried about the sedentary habits of today's children, and this week it released new guidelines suggesting kids under 2 should not have any screen time at all. According to the WHO, infants and 1-year-olds should not have any screen time at all, and 2-year-olds should only have an hour or less per day.
This is in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines, which recommend no screen time other than video chatting for children under 18 months, but parents should view these guidelines as part of a bigger picture of childhood health, and not worry too much if their baby has seen a few episodes of Peppa Pig.
While the WHO report spawned a flurry of headlines focused on the elimination of all screen time for infants, the screen time suggestions are just one bit of 17-page report called "Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age".
This is not so much about taking away screens as it is about adding activity.
"What we really need to do is bring back play for children," says Dr. Juana Willumsen, an expert in childhood obesity and physical activity with the WHO. "This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep."
So before parents start feeling bad because they've breastfed their baby in front of the TV, or put on some Paw Patrol so that they could load the dishwasher, it's super important to have the full context. Yes, we should limit screen time, but we should also limit all kinds of sedentary time infants and toddlers are spending strapped into strollers, chairs and swings. Lifestyle patterns are established early in life, so we really do want to encourage our kids to move their bodies as much as possible (which will help them get better quality sleep at night).
This is about movement, not about demonizing screen time, and some doctors disagree with the WHO's guidelines, suggesting there should be more room for parental flexibility.
Earlier this year the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in the UK recently released its first guidance on screen time, which did not take such a black-and-white approach to the issue.
The RCPCH didn't ban screen time for infants or young kids, but rather suggested that parents use their own judgment and take care to support an active lifestyle that values movement, socialization and quality sleep. The organization found it was "impossible to recommend age-appropriate time limits" because "there is not enough evidence to confirm that screen time is in itself harmful to child health at any age."
Basically, the top pediatricians in the UK recognize the need for nuance in the conversation about childhood screen time. We absolutely should not be plopping babies down in front of the TV for 8 hours a day, but don't beat yourself up if you didn't cut the cable the instant your baby was born, mama.
Parenting is about more than following rules—it's about doing what's best for your family. It's important to know why the WHO is making these recommendations so that we can make the best decisions we can, but it's also important to recognize that parenting isn't a one-size-fits-all deal.
For some parents, ditching TV altogether is the best thing for their family.
But if you felt like you had to put on Baby Shark today so that you could drink your coffee in peace, that's okay, too, mama.
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