Some local doctors and childcare providers are backing new guidelines released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that address one of the most pressing issues of 21st century family life.

How much should parents resort to videos and online games to entertain, educate or simply distract their young children?

The answer, according to WHO, is never for children in their first year of life and rarely in their second.

Those aged 2 to 4, the international health agency said, should spend no more than an hour a day in front of a screen.

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Dr Johan Morreau pictured here when he was working as a paediatrician and chief medical advisor for Lakes DHB. Photo / File
Dr Johan Morreau pictured here when he was working as a paediatrician and chief medical advisor for Lakes DHB. Photo / File

Dr Johan Morreau was a senior paediatrician at Rotorua Hospital and said screen time added no value to the growth and development of a child's brain.

"The most important issue is the amount of one-on-one personal time that an adult spends with their kid.

"The screen time is not a substitute for that, it does not add any value."

He understood parents had to manage their busy lives but he believed that couldn't be allowed to undermine the quality time you could spend with children.

"Have every parent ask themselves how much one-on-one time am I spending with the child and how could I maximise it because that is what will stimulate the healthy growth of a child's brain."

Rotorua childcare provider Eric Hollis, who has owned The Ole Schoolhouse for more than a decade, said he had initial caution regarding the advice from WHO.

"We have to think about family context and situations because it is all too easy to make a rule of this kind without considering the context.

"But in principle, it is a wonderful suggestion."

Hollis agreed with Morreau and said children under 1 needed human interaction.

"What they are learning is the development of empathy and social response."

His advice to parents had always been to minimise screen time and if possible to have none at all.

Julie Hollis is the infant team leader at The Ole Schoolhouse. Photo / File
Julie Hollis is the infant team leader at The Ole Schoolhouse. Photo / File

Julie Hollis, who also works at The Ole Schoolhouse, said she had witnessed the effects screen time had on children.

"Children behave somehow slower in terms of language and interaction.

"They kind of space out while you try to talk to them, they can't read your face and they are somewhere else."

Bay of Plenty and Lakes District medical officer of health Dr Phil Shoemack said parents should question their level of "busyness" if they were using screen time to distract a child.

He stated the additional advice from WHO was the amount of exercise each age group should obtain in a day would be prevented if they were watching a screen.

"Not having a screen in front of them means they are going to be far more likely to be active and that is good.

"Children explore in their environments, gain independence as well as the physical benefits and the social benefits.

"It is a good example where everything is connected."