Originally published in mom and caregiver magazine, October 2019
In June 2019, the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) updated its guidelines for screen time use in school-aged children and youth, noting that three-quarters of Canadians are concerned about their children’s media use.i While the CPS continues to recommend limiting screen time for children under the age of fiveii , its updated guidelines for older children present a shift from looking strictly at the amount, to a more qualitative, individual approach to setting limits. This is an important shift, as technology, screens and media use become more and more ingrained into our daily way of life.
One of the reasons this shift is important is because not all screen time is created equal. I really came to understand this when my son’s teacher recommended using additional technology at home to enhance his learning. Some good, educational apps and websites were recommended, as well as exploring my son’s areas of interest via quality programming and (supervised) internet searches. I watched technology serve as a tool to expand on his love of learning and offer additional exposure to literacy and numeracy concepts. This learning “tool” became even more positive when we could learn and enjoy together.
Rather than trying to just limit volume, parents who are concerned about their children’s screen time may be better served to look at how screens are being used in their home: What of value have screens replaced, and how have screens impacted family time, daily routines, sleep, and physical activity? In other words, turning on the TV or tablet to be able to make dinner, have a much needed break, or watch a favourite show is not only a reality in today’s society, it can be a very positive thing. However, when screen time begins to consistently replace quality family time, face-to-face time with peers, and activities like free play and time outside, which are integral to children’s development, screen time use becomes more problematic.
The most powerful, often overlooked learning tool for parents is modelling, or “leading by example”. “Unplugging” at meal times, putting down the phone when having a conversation and prioritizing quality family time every day can be extremely influential in setting the tone for positive media use in the home. Even spending 10 minutes a day (or more!) in a child-led activity can have huge benefits for your relationship and overall well-being.iii
By showing your children that screen time can be used in moderation and at appropriate times, you will be demonstrating that technology is fun and useful, but never more important than the relationships with the people around them.
i Screen time and digital media: Advice for parents of school-aged children and teens. Retrieved from https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/screen-time-and-digital-media
ii Canadian Pediatric Society. (2019). Screen time and young children. Retrieved from https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/screen-time-and-young-children
iii ReachOut Australia. (2019). Parents as positive role models. Retrieved from https://parents.au.reachout.com/skills-to-build/connecting-and-communicating/things-to-try-supportive-parenting/being-a-good-role-model-for-your-teenager