New campaign urges parents to press pause on screen time for their children

Ideally, children under 2 years of age should have no screen time while under 5s should have no more than an hour a day.

Lifestyle Reporter

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Lifestyle Reporter

New campaign urges parents to press pause on screen time for their children

Parents are being encouraged to pause screen time to allow children to play.

With the beginning of school term and a return to routine for families, safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland are encouraging parents to reduce the amount of screen time their children are having, become more active and start them on the way to a healthier life.

The ‘START’ campaign encourages families to make a ‘play pact’ by committing as a family to pause for play and spend less time on their screens. This doesn’t have to be organised physical activity or sport and all movement counts. The website www.makeastart.ie  provides lots of simple ideas on getting active in and around the home and ways to make a positive, healthy start.

Research¹ reveals that too much screen time impacts on children’s physical activity, diet and sleep. Children who spend more time on screens tend to get less sleep, are more likely to have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) and eat more unhealthy drinks and snacks. The START campaign aims to provide practical tools and advice for parents, to help them set limits on screen time and to encourage the whole family to become more active.

Commenting, Conor Owens, Senior Psychologist and manager for HSE’s Triple P Positive Parenting Programme* said: “The best way for children to become healthier, fitter and more sociable is through play. Families are telling us they want a healthier balance between technology and play. We know that too much screen time negatively impacts on all aspects of a child’s development. Our tips are practical and simple and will make a real difference to you and your family.

Reducing screen time, even by 30 minutes every day will bring real benefits. Less screen time means more time for other activities.”

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health and Nutrition, safefood continued “While parents are aware of the dangers of everyday habits like too many ‘treat foods’ or too many sugary drinks, they may be unaware of how excessive screen time is impacting on our children’s health. It’s clearly linked with how active we are, the food we eat and the amount of sleep we get. Screen time can displace physical activity and is associated with a pattern of unhealthy snacking. It also increases our children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods. We need to get this balance right and parents can make a start by reducing their own screen time.”

Recent research² for the START campaign found that children aged under 2 spent on average approx. 1 hour 15 minutes every day on screens, rising to almost 1 hour 30 minutes at weekends. For children aged 3-9, the weekday average was approx. 1 hour 45 mins and between 2.5 and 3 hours at weekends.  For 10-12 year olds, the weekday average was almost two hours rising to more than 3 hours at the weekends.

Sarah O’Brien, HSE national lead on the START campaign added:  “Screen time is such a part now of daily life that trying to cut down on it might seem challenging. Ideally, under 2s should have no screen time while under 5s should have no more than an hour a day. For older children, it’s important to agree set limits that suit your family and to stick to them. Children love to copy what others do so if they see parents on a smartphone, chances are they’ll want to do the same. Having wind-down time with no screens before bedtime and enjoying more screen free meals together are two good places where parents can start.”