The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its first ever guidance on how much time young children should spend using electronic devices with screens.

On Wednesday, WHO announced that children under five years old should not spend more than one hour a day watching such devices. Less than that is better, officials say, and children under age one should not get any screen time at all.

“What we are cautioning on is over-use of those electronic screen times with young children,” WHO expert Fiona Bull told reporters.

The new guidelines are somewhat similar to advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics. That group recommends children younger than 18 months should avoid screens other than video conferences over the internet. It says parents of children under age two should choose “high-quality programming” with educational value. Boys and girls should be able to watch the program with a parent and understand what they are seeing.

The guidelines say that children under five should also be physically active and get enough sleep to help develop good lifelong behaviors. This will help prevent diseases in later life.

“In this age group of under-5s, it is currently 40 million children around the world (who) are overweight. Of that (figure) 50 percent are in Africa and the southeast Asia region,” Bull said. The Reuters news agency says that number represents 5.9 percent of all children worldwide.

Early childhood is a period of fast physical and mental development during which behaviors are formed and ways of doing things can be changed, noted WHO. Its guidelines come from evidence in hundreds of studies, many from Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United States.

Sedentary behaviors, whether riding motorized transport rather than walking or cycling, sitting at a desk in school, watching TV or playing inactive screen-based games” are increasingly common, WHO said. It added that such behaviors have been linked to poor health

Some groups said WHO’s screen time guidelines failed to consider the possible benefits of electronic media.

WHO did not go into much detail about the possible harm caused by too much screen time. But the guidelines did note that lack of sleep in children has been linked with increases in extra fat as measured by body mass index.

Shorter periods spent sleeping has been linked with more time spent watching television and playing computer games, it added.

Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.

caution(ing) – v. to warn or tell someone about a possible danger or problem

recommend(s) – v. to suggest that someone do something

sedentaryadj. doing or involving a lot of sitting

benefit(s) – n. a good or helpful result or effect


Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.

1. How much screen time should children under five have according to WHO?

2. What does the American Academy of Pediatrics advise parents to do?

3. How many under-5s are overweight according to this research?

4. What have sedentary behaviours been linked to?


Exercise 3

Make a sentence.

Make sentences using these words.

caution, recommend, sedentary, benefit


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.

1. What do you think of the recommended screen time for children?

2. How can too much screen time affect children in your opinion?

3. What are some important benefits and drawbacks of using computers at a young age?

4. How much time do your family members spend using computers / mobile devices?


This lesson is based on a news article originally published by VOA.