Pediatricians release new recommendations about screens

The statement encourages parents to pay attention to what their children and teens are doing online

When it comes to school-aged children and screens, the latest advice is simple: don’t leave kids to their own devices. According to a new position statement on screen use by school-aged children released this summer by the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS), parents need to do more than just set time constraints, they need to be aware of how screens are being used.

According to CPS, digital media offers benefits as well as risks. For children between 5 and 12, high-quality programming or games enjoyed with family members can be educational as well as social. At the same time, kids this age are more vulnerable to negative outcomes from heavy screen use, including depression.

For tweens and teens, technology can help them feel more connected with friends, but moderation is key. Studies show negative effects with both zero media use and excessive use.

For all children, screen use close to bedtime can impact sleep. Excessive use is also correlated with inactivity, weight gain and negative body image.

The statement encourages parents to pay attention to what their children and teens are doing online, look for opportunities to engage with children as they enjoy watching movies, TV shows, play games, or go online. Parents also need to model healthy habits by moderating their own time on screens.

The new guidelines focus on how screens are being used and ensuring that screen time isn’t interfering with other important activities, such as sleep, school, physical activity, and face-to-face social time with family and friends.

Signs of unhealthy screen time include:

  • complaints about being bored or unhappy without access to digital technology;
  • challenging behaviours in response to screen time limits;
  • screen use or time that interferes with face-to-face interaction, physical activity, school, or sleep;
  • negative emotions after using social media, texting, or playing video games.

Recommendations on healthy digital media use include:

  • Make a family media plan;
  • Be present and engaged when screens are used
  • Speak proactively with teens about acceptable and unacceptable online behaviours;
  • Encourage meaningful screen use;
  • Prioritize face-to-face interactions, sleep, and physical activity over screen use;
  • Choose developmentally appropriate content and prioritize screen use that is educational, active, or social;
  • Be part of children’s digital lives
  • Model healthy screen use: Have daily “screen-free” times; turn screens off when not in use; turn screens off at least an hour before bed; and do not text while driving or biking.
  • Watch for signs of problematic screen use, such as behaviour problems and interference with other activities.

CPS represents more than 3,300 pediatricians, pediatric subspecialists and other child health professionals across Canada.