Ban phones at bedtime, says chief medical officer

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Social media use is disrupting children’s sleep and phones should be left outside the bedroom at night, Scotland’s chief medical officer has advised.

Dr Catherine Calderwood said youngsters are waking up to read messages and interrupted sleep is impacting on their health and schoolwork.

Dr Calderwood has joined her UK counterparts in publishing official guidance on social media and screen use.

The advice forms part of a “precautionary approach” following an independent review on the effect of screen and social media use in children and young people.

It also recommends phones be kept away from the dinner table to encourage interaction between parents and children.

She told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Because we know that children are waking up deliberately to check their messages, or their messages wake them up, that’s why we’ve said to put phones outside the bedroom.

“The effect of interrupted sleep is really is quite significant on children’s health and well-being, and on their concentration at school.

“We would want people to be sensible and think about whether their children are getting enough sleep.”

  • Ban phones at bedtime and the dinner table
  • Never assume a child is happy to have their photo published online
  • Establish a tech industry duty of care and a voluntary code of conduct
  • Clearer terms of conditions, improving age verification, and sharing anonymised data for scientific research
  • Talk about sharing photos and information sensibly online with children
  • Lead by example when it comes to screen use

Dr Calderwood said research had shown an association between increased screen time and children’s anxiety and depression levels.

She said: “There’s no evidence of causation of harm, but what we have seen is a rise in children’s depression rates, a rise in children saying their quality of life is lower if they are using screens for long periods of time.

“We do know that one in five children wakes up at night to check their phones for social media messages, and interrupted sleep decreases their quality of education the next day.

“There isn’t a cause and effect, there seems to be an association, and that’s why we’ve been very cautious in making very bold statements about the harms.

“What we’ve done is set out some tips for parents, and this comes because they are asking us for them, as are children and young people.”

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