Why is screen time such an issue?

(Peter Byrne/PA)

The first official advice has been published which encourages parents to keep children away from their phones during meals and at bedtime.

Here is a closer look at the latest report from the chief medical officers and the debate around screen time.

– What is the report suggesting?

According to the official advice from the UK’s top doctors, parents should make children put their phones down before bedtime and meals to help encourage better sleep and more family time.

It also suggests parents should educate their children on safely using their devices – for example putting them away when crossing roads as well as taking regular breaks after several hours of using a screen.

The advice encourages parents to talk to their children about sharing photos and information online, and how this can sometimes be manipulated, as well as warning parents never to assume their children will be happy for photos of them to be shared online.

It also calls for parents and children to take advantage of screen time tracking tools to help monitor their usage habits.

– Why is screen time an issue?

The impact of screen time on sleep has long been debated, with research suggesting extended periods looking at a screen can disrupt sleep quality.

However many argue that the addictive nature of mobile devices is the greater threat to getting enough good quality sleep, which is why the chief medical officers are urging parents and children to leave their devices outside the bedroom.

Concerns have also been raised about the negative influence the internet and social media can have on health and wellbeing, particularly among young people.

Cyberbullying, online predators, harassment and disturbing content have all been identified as dangers for children online, with experts warning of the impact on mental health as a result of exposure to such issues, especially when combined with poor sleep and a lack of exercise that can also be a part of excessive screen time habits.

– So should everyone use screens less?

The chief medical officers acknowledge that time spent online can be “of great benefit” to children and young people in terms of learning opportunities and skills development.

However, they argue that a precautionary approach is needed to better tread the line of children reaping those benefits and potentially being exposed to harmful content and scenarios.

– What are the tech companies doing in response?

Under increasing pressure from lawmakers around the world, social media and tech giants are beginning to improve safety measures on their platforms.

In the last year, both Apple and Google have introduced screen time monitoring tools on their smartphones which enables parents to track how much time their children spend on their phones.

These features also allow users to set time limits for specific apps – blocking access to them once the time allowance has been used up.