By Fiona Macrae
PUBLISHED: 18:24 EST, 21 May 2012 | UPDATED: 18:24 EST, 21 May 2012
Today’s youngsters risk developing a lifelong dependency on TV and computer screens, Britain’s leading doctors will be told today.
The growing addiction could leave a generation suffering damage to the body as well as the brain, a leading psychologist will warn.
The latest statistics show that 12 to 15-year-olds spend an average of more than six hours a day slumped in front of screens.
Shockingly, the figure only applies to viewing at home and not to computer use at school or gadgets such as smartphones in free time.
Dr Aric Sigman wants TV banned for toddlers and severely rationed for other youngsters and will warn that parents who use technology as a ‘babysitter’ could be setting up their children for a lifetime of ill health.
His work and studies by other researchers link time spent in front of screens with health problems including obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure, inattentiveness and declines in maths and reading, as well as sleep disorders and autism.
Some of the problems may be caused by simple over-eating and lack of exercise, others by changes to hormones or effects on attention and concentration.
Studies also show that the brain’s reaction to computer games is similar to that seen with drugs and alcohol.
He will tell the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s annual conference in Glasgow: ‘Whether children or adults are formally “addicted” to screen technology or not, many of them overuse technology and have developed an unhealthy dependency on it,’ he will say.
‘“Passive parenting” in the face of the new media environment is a form of benign neglect’
Dr Sigman wants television sets taken out of bedrooms and believes that the youngest children, whose brains are still developing, should not watch TV at all.
From the age of three to seven, they should be limited to an hour and a half a day. Older children should be able to get by with just two hours of TV programmes and computer games.
Dr Sigman will say: ‘“Passive parenting” in the face of the new media environment is a form of benign neglect.
‘A large number of studies are finding that parental rules and limits on child screen time effectively reduce screen time, as does not having screens in bedrooms.’
Dr Sigman is far from the first to warn about the younger generation’s love affair with technology.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation found that young Briton’s obsession with social networking sites has created an ‘Eleanor Rigby’ generation that is cut off from family and friends.
And Susan Greenfield, one of Britain’s most eminent scientists, has repeatedly warned that social networking sites may be harming children’s brains by shortening attention spans, encouraging instant gratification and making young people more self-centred.
Constant computer use may also be ‘infantilising’ the brain, making it harder to learn when things go wrong.