Leading pediatricians said there is little evidence that shows screen time is "toxic" for children, even after other research suggested that just a few hours a day could damage developing brains.

New guidance for under-18-year-olds from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK said the evidence that time in front of a screen has a negative effect on children is "contested" and that the "evidence of harm is often overstated".

The evidence is so weak, the group said, that it could not offer parents a guide for how much they should be limiting their children's screen time.

"Because the effect of screen time depends so much on context, and the uncertain nature of the evidence, it is impossible to give comprehensive national guidance or limits," it said.

"Evidence is weak for a threshold to guide children and parents to the appropriate level of screen time, and we are unable to recommend a cut-off for children's screen time overall."

But it recommended that children did not use screens for the hour before their bedtime.

Max Davie, the officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that parents should "stop worrying" as much about screen time.

"We want to cut through that and say 'actually if you're doing OK and you've answered these questions of yourselves and you're happy, get on and live your life and stop worrying,'" he said.

"But if there are problems and you're having difficulties, screen time can be a contributing factor."

While there is little evidence that screen time itself has a negative effect on children, the group did acknowledge that screens can have a negative effect by taking time away from more positive activities like socialising, exercise, and sleep.

The group also acknowledges other risks, like children being victims of cyberbullying.

The group recommended that "families should negotiate screen time limits with their children based upon the needs of an individual child" and that families should ask four questions to examine the time it is spending in front of screens:

  1. Is screen time in your household controlled?
  2. Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
  3. Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  4. Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

Other studies suggested that young children should be kept away from screens as much as possible

Meanwhile, the initial findings from an ongoing first-of-its-kind study by the National Institutes of Health on how screen time affects students' brains found that as little as two hours of screen time daily could negatively affect children.

The study found that children who have more than two hours of screen time a day got lower scores on tests focused on thinking and language skills.

The study will follow more than 11,000 children, who are currently nine to 10 years old, over the next decade as they grow up around screens.

Screen-time guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics state that parents should accompany young children whenever they use screens and say parents should avoid screen time for toddlers between the ages of 18 and 24 months, with the exception of video calling.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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