By Alessia PassafiumeStaff Reporter
Thu., Nov. 24, 2022timer3 min. read
updateArticle was updated 9 hrs ago
The ideal number of screen time hours for children under two years of age?
Zero, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s latest position statement, a revisiting of its 2017 guidelines on the same topic that was sparked by the pandemic and increased reliance on screens.
“A child’s earliest screen encounters are formative because patterns of exposure and use are habit-forming and known to track into later life,” reads the report authored by Dr. Michelle Ponti, a member of CPS’s digital health task force.
Limits, it argues, are essential because screen time can affect language acquisition, cognitive development and socioemotional health, and can impact levels of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep. For children under two, CPS suggests minimizing screen time, mitigating risks by viewing media together, being mindful of its use and modelling healthy habits.
“Because screens are largely controlled by parents, children’s exposure is more easily modifiable at this age than later on.”
But screen time isn’t always detrimental to children’s development. The report suggests there are two benefits for babies, toddlers and families that were highlighted during the pandemic: interactive video-chats and virtual storytimes. Screen time for children under two is not recommended apart from these activities, but it’s important to note it’s not an absolute restriction, said Ponti.
“A family movie night is a wonderful use of screens, and that’s over an hour,” she said. “We just want people to think, ‘What’s the quality of the content? Is it educational? Is it age appropriate? Is it enhancing our lives? Are we having fun together watching this show, or playing this video game?’ ”
And parents shouldn’t feel guilty for the hours of screen time their kids may have accumulated over the pandemic, but Ponti noted face-to-face communication is the most important for development.
“We’ve all had more screen time than we would want,” she said. “It’s just an opportunity to re-evaluate; it’s an opportunity to make a family screen-time plan,” like cutting out screens for kids while commuting or preparing dinner.
For two- to five-year-olds, the statement suggests limiting screen time to an hour or less per day, ensuring it’s not a routine part of child care and maintaining daily “screen-free times, especially for family meals and book-sharing.”
CPS’s 2019 report on the effects of screen time on development and mental health for school-aged children and adolescents reported teens are “less susceptible” to negative effects of high screen-time levels, but parents should monitor “excessive use and other risky behaviours.”
Ponti stressed modelling is one of the most important tools, and is a habit to start early, either by putting phones away at the dinner table, resisting the urge to check notifications during movies or reading books together and turning off “background screens,” like a TV on during dinner.
“Another thing parents can start doing right away is making sure they’ve taken stock of what the privacy settings are on their child’s devices,” Ponti said, especially for older children. This means disabling location services, setting time frames for when Wi-Fi is available, and supervising internet use as much as possible.
“We don’t want to give parents false information that excess screen time is OK, because it’s not OK. But there is a caveat: quality,” Ponti said. “Quality content is far more important than worrying about an hour, or an hour and five minutes, or two hours” of time spent on devices.
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