Screen time for children: new guidelines from Canadian doctors


The Canadian Pediatric Society has removed a hard time limit on screen use in toddlers and preschoolers, instead encouraging parents to prioritize educational, interactive and age-appropriate materials.

New guidelines released Thursday morning still urge no screens at all for children under the age of two, except to video chat with others, such as grandparents, and say children aged two to five should avoid “sedentary screen time.” limit to one hour a day.

But an earlier recommendation that set a firm limit of one hour a day for two- to five-year-olds has been relaxed to allow for interactive and engaging forms of screen use, such as educational programs and family movie nights, says Calgary pediatrician Dr. Janice Heard, a member of the group’s digital health task force.

She says parents should focus on reducing passive screen use, watching with kids and modeling desired behaviors.

“The best thing they can do for their child is interact with them one-on-one, if they can,” says Heard, who suspects pandemic lockdowns may have reversed pre-COVID-19 momentum to increase screen use among different age groups. curb.

“Then they will naturally reduce the amount of time their kids spend on screens if they recognize that it doesn’t teach them anything, it doesn’t help them in any way. And for the very little kids it’s actually quite harmful.”

Heard says screens aren’t necessarily bad per se, but they displace activities that are essential to child development. She says excessive screen use for young children can disrupt language development, prosocial behavior and executive functioning.

The new guidelines emphasize four principles: minimizing, limiting, conscious use and modeling the healthy use of screens.

But it’s the shift in recommended time limits that Heard hopes will encourage parents and families to actively set limits on passive consumption and explore when, how and why they allow screen use for young children.

Heard says the same principles can be extrapolated to older children and teens, for whom pediatrics issued similar guidelines in 2019 that encouraged limits based on the individual child, with no hard time limits.

The time limits of the pediatric society have long been a source of stress for many families who have not known what is acceptable, says Natalie Coulter, director of the Institute for Research on Digital Literacies at York University.

“It assumes a real simplicity of ‘good time’ and ‘bad time.’ Even trying (to define) what a screen is becomes difficult,” said Coulter, an associate professor of communications and media studies.

“There is now a very blurred line between the real world and the digital world. There is no clear description anymore. If you go to school through a screen, is it screen time? Is it real or digital?”

Coulter is part of a research group that interviewed parents of children ages four to 12 about screen use during the pandemic. The study includes 15 families in Canada, along with more in Australia, Colombia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, China and the United States.

Stress over how to comply with screen recommendations was a common theme, she says, and the idea of ​​enforced time limits has become obsolete.

“Parents are under so much pressure and so much guilt. It’s a little unrealistic and it just adds to a sort of parental sense of not being good enough,” says Coulter.

“I have two girls[and]I totally struggle with it. It’s not like I have these brilliant answers. But I think, like with anything, once you set up really hard binary rules, the dialogue kind of shuts down a bit.”

Matthew Johnson, director of education at the Ottawa-based group MediaSmarts, acknowledges a tightrope when it comes to messaging. He was involved in writing the new guidelines as a member of the pediatric society’s digital health task force, noting that focusing on harms can detract from constructive advice on building media literacy.

“There is also a risk that if a screen time guideline seems unrealistic, it will simply be ignored,” says Johnson.

“It will seem like you can’t meet that guideline, because it’s too unrealistic, that you can’t do anything to control the role of screens in your family. I think it’s much more valuable to give parents strategies for identifying positive use and positive relationships with screens.”

The new guideline also encourages pediatricians to discuss screen use during routine visits, with Heard expressing concern that not enough families she has spoken to appear to be aware of screen risks.

“I’ll ask them the question: How much screen time does your child get? ‘Oh, well, probably an hour before school, a few hours after school, and then at night, and they have their TV ΓǪ in their bedroom,'” she says.

“And I just think, ‘Oh boy, we didn’t raise our young parents right.'”

Even small changes can have a big effect on families eager to curb screen use, she says.

“It’s not like they have to change their whole life. But by doing even one thing, they can improve the outcomes of what’s going to happen to their kids,” Heard says.

“(At) the CPS we’re all parents too, we all get it. We want to be able to give people concrete things they can do that make a difference that won’t completely disrupt their lives.”

Screen time for children: new guidelines from Canadian doctors

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