Digital wellness / June 07, 2019

Screen time and youth: Canadian Paediatric Society weighs in

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise


On June 6, 2019, the Canadian Paediatric Society released a new statement on screen time and school aged and adolescent children as an extension to their November 2017 position statement on screen time and young children. TELUS Wise is proud to provide financial support for both of these statements which help inform clinicians, parents and caregivers about the effects of screen time on youth, and the strategies we can adopt to ensure youth stay well in our digital world.

The first position statement recommends no screen time for kids under the age of 2, and less than one hour per day for kids aged 2 to 5. These recommendations still hold true; however, in the new statement, focused on school-aged children (5-12 years) and adolescents (up to 19), the rule of thumb isn’t as cut and dry, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Managing screen time gets more challenging as kids get older. With age, screen time often increases while parental supervision decreases, and digital activities become more varied with school-related screen time being added into the mix. It’s difficult to impose screen time limits if your child’s teacher has assigned screen-based homework, whether it’s editing a video assignment, completing an online math game, or collaborating with a classmate on a Google Slides presentation.

Don’t leave kids to their own devices

As a parent myself, I know that screen time can be hugely beneficial for youth; they learn how to find and validate information, are inspired by others’ creativity, foster stronger relationships with friends, and even adopt new skills playing online games. In fact, according to the Statement, recreational screen time at low levels (1 hour per day) has been associated with lower depression risk compared to no screen time.

I must also admit that sometimes my children’s screen time can be a saving grace for me as a parent, allowing me to keep my own sanity. For example, my screen time rules went out the window on a recent family trip, when mechanical issues resulted in my family and I being stuck in our airplane seats for three hours before take- off.

That said, we all know that too much of a good thing isn’t always good; the Statement indicates that excessive use is correlated with increased sedentary time, weight gain and body image concerns and that for teens, there is a small but significant association between excessive use and feelings of depression. But if there isn’t a magic number of screen time hours that is recommended for school aged children and adolescents, then what’s a parent to do? Read on to discover four new recommendations from the Canadian Paediatric Society, as well as my own input and additional resources available through TELUS Wise.

1. Manage screen use: have rules and limits about what, when, and how much

Supportive of the recommendation from the Canadian Paediatric Society, TELUS Wise encourages parents to set rules that not only cover when and how much kids can use screens, but also what activities are appropriate. Talk about when they need to seek your permission or check in with you - for instance if they want to download a new app. Discuss what your kids can do to protect their privacy, and the importance of respecting themselves and others online.

It’s also a good idea to talk to your kids about ‘media multitasking’ or the practice of using two or more devices simultaneously. The Statement suggests that doing so can make learning more difficult and impact academic outcomes for school-aged children. It’s also been linked to weaker working memory and lower sustained attention for adolescents. The bottom line is that youth should refrain from watching TV or checking social media while doing their homework!

It may feel like screen-use related rules go in one ear and out the other, but you can rest assured, they can and do make a difference. According to research by MediaSmarts, household rules about Internet use make kids less likely to do things like post their contact information, visit gambling sites, seek out online pornography and talk to strangers online. If nothing else, rules can help your kids maintain a healthier balance between screen and non-screen activities, and even get a good night’s sleep. Check out our TELUS Wise smartphone contract that you can review and sign with your children to set basic expectations about appropriate smartphone (or Internet) use.

2. Make it meaningful: choose educational and purposeful content

Not all screen time is equal. Ensure your children are engaging in activities that are age-appropriate and encourage screen time that offers active, social or educational value. Teachers can recommend good websites and apps with high learning value, and you can also check out websites, apps and games for yourself to gauge appropriateness and value. Having your child ‘teach’ you about what they’re doing online also opens up the opportunity for meaningful conversations not only about digital safety and privacy, but also about the relative value of the ways in which they spend their time online.

Refer to the TELUS Wise tip sheet “Managing Screens in your Home” for some ideas on how to maximize positive screen use for children.

3. Model moderation: have family screen-free times, especially during meals

The saying, ‘practice what you preach’ could not be more suitable when it comes to technology use and screen time. If you expect your kids to not check their phones at the dinner table, or keep their phones out of their bedroom, then doing so yourself is a great way to reinforce your expectations. Plus, it can help avoid opposing parent-child conversations that come up when your tween or teen inevitably asks why you’re allowed to do something that you tell them they can’t do.

4. Monitor screen time: know what your kids are doing online… and when to be concerned

Maintaining an on-going conversation with your child about their online activities, pre-approving content and apps, and participating in our digital world with your children are some of the best ways you can stay informed on what’s happening in your home during screen time. Beyond what they’re doing and the content they’re consuming, you should also know when to be concerned about too much screen time. The Canadian Paediatric Society shares signs to watch for that may be indicative of problematic screen time use, including:

  • Complaining about being bored or unhappy without access to technology.
  • Challenging behaviour in response to screen time limits.
  • Screen use interfering with sleep, school or face-to-face interactions.
  • Screen time interfering with offline play, physical activities, socializing or sleeping.
  • Negative emotions following screen use.

If your child exhibits any of these signals, it is recommended that you ask your child’s doctor for help.

The Statement offers a lot of great insights and there’s a lot to digest, but there are two central messages that shine through. First, all families are different and have different needs, and second, for school aged children and adolescents in particular, it’s not just screen time that matters, it’s also about how screens are being used.

Our “Managing Screens in your Home” tip sheet offers guidance on how to differentiate between positive and negative screen activities and asks parents to consider three C’s: content, conduct and context.

To learn more, read the full statement on the Canadian Paediatric Society website, or download our guide, “Helping our kids navigate our digital world.”

Kids & tech
Mental health
Screen time
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