We have all either seen or heard of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s overarching recommendations for healthy screen usage as it pertains to young children. But even with these resources available, the question remains - how do we put these guidelines into practice?
A disappointing trend in the available guidelines for young children’s screen usage is that the focus of these recommendations is almost exclusively on what to do and what not to do - “no screens before age 2”, “no more than 1 hour per day”, “choose healthy programs”, “set a healthy schedule”. What is missing from these recommendations is how parents can go about accomplishing and adhering to these guidelines.
The following is a compilation of resources provided by multiple sources on the different aspects of healthy screen time for young children. This includes:
- Assessing whether your child is using screens in a balanced and healthy way
- Exploring whether screen use is becoming a problem
- Making screen time healthy and beneficial for your child
- Incorporating and encouraging physical activity through screens
- Being a good role model for healthy screen usage
Is Your Child’s Screen Routine Healthy?
On this issue, an Australian parenting website raises a very important point - instead of assuming that all screen time is unhealthy for children, it may be possible thatyour child’s screen usage is in line with a healthy and balanced lifestyle. To find out if this is the case, ask yourself if your child is:
- sleeping a healthy amount of time with no issues
- physically healthy and developing
- engaged in daycare / learning activities
- connecting with other children
- enjoying other forms of play aside from screens
- learning and enjoying themselves while using screens
- engaging in quality forms of screen time
Keeping in mind CPA’s general guidelines for usage, if you are adhering to recommendations as best as you can and answered “yes” to most or all of these questions, it is suggested that your child is likely using screens in a healthy and balanced manner! Yay!
Signs That Screen Use is Becoming Problematic
On the other hand, unhealthy or excessive use of screens does have the potential to become problematic for your child. Signs that the boundary between healthy and unhealthy is being crossed include:
- Being grumpy or bored without access to screens
- Acting out when limits are set on screen time
- Interference with sleep or with social interactions
- Interference with offline, real-life, imaginative play or interactions with family
- Negative emotions after using screens
If your child displays any number of these signs, it may be an indication that it is time to step back from screens or to adapt the routine or type of screens your child uses for a healthier, more balanced approach.
Making Screen Time Healthy & Beneficial
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources online with tips for healthy screen usage informed by parents’ experiences while following general guidelines. Articles from Fraser Health, Mayo Clinic, Healthy Families BC, and Caring for Kids are just a handful among the many available with a quick search! Feel free to give these articles a read for more information. From all of these articles, however, a few trends emerged that can be seen as key suggestions for making screen time healthy…
- Create a Family Media Plan to create goals and rules for screen time using this resource.
- Track your child’s specific time spent on screens to learn just how much they are a part of their daily routine using this resource.
- Avoid using screens about an hour before bedtime, as well as during family mealtimes.
- Set limits on after-school screen time (i.e. 20-30 mins of use before outside play).
- Experiment with having a couple of “screen free” days during your week.
- Limit “background screens” (i.e. TV on in the background).
- Communicate your screen time limits with other adults whose children your child may visit, and with your child’s school / daycare to help ensure that the limits are being followed outside of the home, or that home screen time is adjusted to make up for screens used elsewhere.
Choosing the Right Screens
- Choose educational and interactive programs and apps over ones that only require watching or swiping.
- Use a media rating system like this one to choose what programs or movies are age – and stage – appropriate for your child.
- Wherever possible, engage in your child’s screen time together and interact with them throughout - a guide for co-viewing screens with your child can be found here.
- Preview programs, games and apps before allowing your child to view or play with them.
- Make sure your child is close by during screen time so that you can supervise his or her activities.
Prioritizing What’s Important
- Make sure non-screen aspects of your child’s routine daily routines come first (i.e. face-to-face interaction, sleep, physical activity, self-directed or imaginative play).
- If you are able, record programs to watch at times that don’t compete as much with active play (i.e. after it gets dark).
Encouraging Physical Activity
Many sources have emphasized the importance of encouraging motor development and physical activity as a priority over screen time for young children. This article has put forth some tips on how we can utilize screens themselves to encourage activity in young children, including:
- Going for a walk with your child and taking photos to later look at, talk about, draw, etc.
- Watching videos about places you then visit with your child (i.e. the beach).
- Selecting screens for your child that encourage activity such as singing, dancing, and moving in general (i.e. interactive dancing games or virtual sports games such as Wii Sports).
- Transfering your child’s favorite show into real-life (i.e. dressing up as a favorite character, or acting out scenes from the show).
- Taking breaks between screen usage to be active (i.e. jumping jacks during commercials together).
We also recognize that parent schedules are often busy and may not have a large amount of room for physical play, introducing the need for screens as entertainment. To work around busy work schedules, a cooperative effort with other parents of young children may be possible - even including taking turns supervising neighborhood activities outside on different days.
Modelling Healthy Screen Time
As mentioned in a previous blog post, it is important to be a role model to your children with the way you use screens yourself, and to remember that your child is watching you and learning from your behaviour about how, and when, screens are to be used. This article, amonst many other great tips, recommends:
- Rethinking your own screen-time habits and making sure they are in line with the habits you wish to see your child develop.
- Adhering to the same “screen-free” times that you expect from your child (i.e. during meals, when socializing, etc.).
- Turning screens off when you are not using them.
Ideally, with this handful of more specific tips in your toolkit, you will be better equipped to put CPA recommendations and guidelines into action in everyday parenting!