They’re growing up inundated with screens – smart phones, tablets and televisions. But how much screen time is safe for your kids? It may be very likely that they’re parked in front of screens for too long, according to new recommendations.
Canadian kids under two years old shouldn’t be getting any screen time at all, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) says in a new position statement released Thursday.
Parents of children between two and five years old should limit screen time to less than one hour per day, too. Across the board, avoid screens for at least one hour before bedtime, the experts recommend.
“The new guidelines are a position statement aimed at physicians to provide physicians with the tools they need to counsel and advise parents on appropriate screen time in children zero to five,” Dr. Michelle Ponti, a pediatrician and chair of the digital health task force at the CPS, told Global News.
The recommendations come after the CPS conducted a survey on screen time. Turns out, front-line doctors and parents alike wanted to know more about what is feasible when it comes to kids and screen times. They wanted to know about duration, how to set limits, and what the effect of screen time was on kids’ well-being.
While the guidelines stop at five years old, Ponti said her next steps are to flesh out the recommendations so that there is advice for older kids, adolescents and teenagers. For now, her team wanted to focus on younger Canadian children.
“We know that early overexposure can lead to overuse later on in life. We know setting limits is easier when you start earlier, and we know that as children get older, beginning at about four, the choice in the material and programming they’re looking at trends towards entertainment than exclusively educational,” Ponti said.
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Content is also an issue: kids are a “click or swipe away” from messages that may encourage unhealthy eating or violence, for example.
Ponti said research has suggested that excess screen time in kids has been tied to a higher risk of obesity, and of issues with focus and attention.
She’s calling on parents to also help with mitigating risks and being mindful of how their family is taking in screen time. The recommendations also include:
- Prioritize educational, age-appropriate and interactive programming.
- Be present and engaged when screens are used and co-view with children.
- Turn off screens when not in use and avoid background TV.
- Be aware of how adults’ use of screens can influence children.
Now may be a good time for families to consider how they use screen time and to build a “media plan” that would address how often screens are on at home, she said. Video-chatting with grandparents forges relationships while watching a constant stream of YouTube videos may not be as productive, for example.
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In October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its own set of guidelines on screen time. The AAP recommendations include:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.