Taking control of screen time can help support children’s healthy development: Fraser Health


Dr. Ingrid Tyler

THE challenges of modern family life can make it difficult for parents to monitor how much time their children spend staring at a screen, but too much screen time may impact their learning, memory and problem-solving ability.

Dr. Ingrid Tyler, Fraser Health medical health officer, reminds parents what the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends when it comes to children excessively watching television and using electronic devices like smartphones and tablets.

“For children two- to five-years-old, screen time should be limited to less than one hour per day,” she says. “For children under two years old, we recommend refraining from any screen time.”

However, according to the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, three- to four-year-olds in Canada spend 1.9 hours in screen time.

“For children over six, there should be established and consistent limits on the time spent using media, with parents ensuring that digital media doesn’t take the place of sleep, physical activity or real-life personal interactions,” said Tyler. “In general, we recommend no more than two hours of screen time in a typical day.”

Other recent research about screen time shows:

  • Excessive exposure is associated with cognitive and social delay
  • Children with higher levels of screen time are at an increased risk for emotional problems and poorer family functioning
  • Screen time in youth may influence symptom severity of depression and anxiety
  • There is a higher risk of depression when screen time exceeds two hours per day
  • Using electronic devices near bedtime is associated with inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality, and excessive daytime sleepiness in children

Families can minimize screen time through a variety of ways.

“Regular physical activity helps to minimize screen time and promote overall well-being. Schedule outdoor time each day,” said Tyler. “Also, keep board games, books and puzzles around as an alternative. Parents may consider keeping a media diary to help track screen time. This is also an opportunity for parents to role model healthy screen time use, too.”

Back to school is a great time to review healthy family habits. Fraser Health is a supporter of Live 5-2-1-0, a healthy living and eating initiative that helps children, youth and families make healthier choices, in addition to decreased screen time for kids.

There are four simple guidelines to follow:

  • 5: Enjoy – FIVE or more vegetables and fruits every day
  • 2: Power down – No more than TWO hours of screen time a day
  • 1: Play actively – At least ONE hour a day
  • 0: Choose healthy – ZERO sugary drinks

To learn more about healthy back to school information for children and youth, Fraser Health has released a Healthy Back to School Guide with resources to support health questions of parents, teachers and administrators.

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