A generation ago, dial-up internet, cassette tapes, and boxy television sets were considered modern technology. Today, the gamut of gadgets and games seems endless. Unlike the days of simple television programming, content is now available at our fingertips allowing us to fully embrace what the digital world has to offer.
“A lot of people think of screen time as their phone but it’s everything,” says Dr. Ronik Kanani, Chief of Paediatrics at North York General Hospital (NYGH). “Watching a show, playing video games, texting – it’s all included.”
Dr. Kanani notes that as technology evolves, the way paediatric care is delivered is also changing.
“As physicians we’re learning more about the implications of screen time for children. It’s no longer only about the amount of time children are watching, it’s how they’re interacting with technology,” adds Dr. Kanani.
Recent guidelines published by the Canadian Paediatric Society encourage parents and care providers to minimize screen time, but focus largely on promoting healthy digital media use versus simply setting a time limit on screens.
The recommendations include parents being present during screen time. Learning how to use and implement parental controls and privacy settings on devices, and having conversations about what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviours online can help manage screen time use.
Make it Meaningful
Help children choose apps and online activities that are educational. It’s also important for parents to be involved in their child’s online activity whether they’re playing video games together or discussing how to safely connect with others online.
Don’t miss potential signs that screen time may be problematic for children, which might include complaints about being bored or unhappy without devices, a change in behaviour after playing video games, or screen time that interferes with sleep, physical activity, or face-to-face social interaction. It’s important to note an occasional occurrence doesn’t always indicate a problem.
Model healthy behaviour
Take a look at your own screen time habits and carve out time for outdoor activities and quality time with loved ones. Turn off devices during family meals and social activities, and one hour before bedtime to model healthy habits.
“How can you tell your kids not to be on their phone if you’re on it too?” says Dr. Kanani, who is also a father of three.
While he recommends placing limits on screen time, Dr. Kanani says there’s no magic number when it comes to total hours logged per day. Scrapping screen time entirely can have social implications for older children who may participate in online chat groups. Too much time on devices can lead to mental health concerns. Dr. Kanani says it’s important for parents to have meaningful conversations with children about how screen time may negatively affect their mental well-being and keep the lines of communication open.
“We know it can have impacts on socialization, development and mental health. A lot of what social media promotes is how great people’s lives are. It’s superficial. People think that a person’s life is better than their own. That’s how it can negatively affect mood. As parents, we need to make a concerted effort to better understand how our children are engaging online.”