Parents are being warned not to use television as a babysitter for babies, with new advice that children aged under two should have no screen time.
The world-first 24-hour sleep and activity guidelines also recommend parents of preschoolers aged five and under limit their screen use to less than an hour a day, or risk harming their child’s cognitive, physical and social development.
The national guidelines, launched by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt yesterday, are the result of Australian and Canadian research led by University of Wollongong early childhood expert Tony Okely.
They include advice on screen time, active play, time spent sitting and lying down, and the ideal amount of sleep.
Experts said screen time used for creating, problem-solving, or learning was acceptable but “co-viewing” with a parent was recommended to help the child learn about the world around them.
Toddlers aged one to two should spend at least 180 minutes a day on physical activities including running and jumping.
The same advice goes for preschoolers aged three to five years, who should spend at least 60 minutes of that time on energetic play.
Professor Okely said screen time while sitting could counteract the health benefits of physical activity, leading to language delays, reduced attention, lower levels of school readiness and poorer decision-making.
“The revised guidelines incorporate the effects of screen time on a child’s growth and development and provide recommendations … in how to mitigate these effects,” he said.
“A child can do sufficient physical activity to meet the guidelines, yet still be considered sedentary if they spend a large amount of their day sitting, lying down or restrained, especially in front of a screen.”
The guidelines recommend 10 to 13 hours of sleep for preschoolers aged three to five.
“Sleep plays an essential role in a child’s growth and development and shares an interrelated relationship with physical activity,” Professor Okely said.
“If a child receives good quality sleep, they will have the energy to be active, and an active child is a well-rested child.”