Toddlers and young children should have no more than one hour of sedentary screen time per day, according to new international advice.
World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, published on Wednesday, suggest a 60-minute limit for those aged between two and five years old.
It also recommends babies and toddlers avoid any sedentary screen time, including watching TV or sitting still playing games on devices, until the age of two.
The guidance, designed to help national policymakers, also includes advice on physical activity, and sleep among under fives.
“For the greatest health benefits, infants and young children should meet all the recommendations for physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep in a 24-hour period,” the report states.
“Replacing restrained or sedentary screen time with more moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, while preserving sufficient sleep, can provide additional health benefits.”
Dr Max Davie, officer for health improvement for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said the guidelines are “useful benchmarks” for families, but warned they should be interpreted with caution.
Advice published by the organisation in January suggested parents avoid letting children use their technology an hour before bed time, and recommended parents set agreed screen time limits.
The UK’s four chief medical officers have also advised banning phones from bedtimes and mealtimes.
However, both sets of advice did not specify a time children should spend using screens.
“The restricted screen time limits suggested by the WHO do not seem proportionate to the potential harm,” Dr Davie said.
“Our research has shown that currently there is not strong enough evidence to support the setting of screen time limits, and that screen use should be considered alongside a range of activities to assess its impact.
“Also, it is difficult to see how a household with mixed-age children can shield a baby from any screen exposure at all, as is recommended.”
Professor Andrew Przybylski, from the University of Oxford, said the report “represents a missed opportunity” for WHO.
“On the basis of common sense many of the recommendations make sense but in many ways the conclusions drawn about screens are out of step with scientific evidence of harm,” he said.
“None would contest the fact that increasing physical activity, sleep, and health are important goals and it is possible that screens impact young people in a wide range of ways but we won’t know that until good scientific studies are done.”
The new WHO guidance states that children less than one years old should not have sedentary screen time.
Children aged one to two years old should spend at least 180 minutes being active and 11 to 14 hours sleeping, it states.
Sedentary screen time is not advised for one year olds, and less than 60 minutes is suggested for two year olds.
Children aged three to four years old should spend at least 180 minutes being physically active, including 60 minutes moderate to vigorous intensity, and sleep for 10 to 13 hours, the report states.
Sedentary screen time should be no more than one hour for those in this age group, and “less is better”.