Screens, like smartphones, computers, tablets, and televisions are a large part of our lives. We use them to communicate, get information, and for having fun. Not all screen time is unhealthy. Screens can offer an important way to learn at school, and can even be used in an active way, like playing tennis, baseball, or other sports games guided by a device. The most harmful screen time is recreational and sedentary screen time (e.g. watching movies and playing games while sitting, reclining, or lying down). Many children are getting too much of this screen time, which can take time away from healthy activities in their day and affect their health. Too much screen time is linked to:
Poor brain development, language development, and attention skills in the early years;
Higher weights and lower levels of physical activity;
Increased risk for chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance; and
Behavioural issues, lower self-esteem, and symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Children under two years old should have zero screen time
Children ages two-to-four years old should have no more than one hour of recreational and sedentary screen time per day
Children ages five-to-17 years old should have no more than two hours of recreational and sedentary screen time per day
Unfortunately, less than one-half of five-to-17-year-olds meet the Canadian screen time guidelines. Encourage children to build a balanced day that is not filled with recreational and sedentary screen time by:
Staying within recommended screen time limits
Putting screens away during important times of the day – for example, before bed and during family time and meal and snack time
Replacing screens with other activities (e.g. physical activity, social interactions with family and friends, and creative, educational activities)
Here are some tips to help “Power Off and Play!” at home:
Set family screen time boundaries to stay within the screen time recommendations – Change your screen time together as a whole family. Do it in a way that aligns with your own family values. Create screen time logs for your family. Use them to track how much time each of you spends in front of a screen each day. Develop a family media plan to set family screen time limits and practices. For example, declare family screen-free days or even parts of the day. Rearrange your home to reduce access to screens, especially in spaces where your family eats meals and snacks or where your children sleep.
Prepare and Eat Meals Together – Set aside time to eat meals together and power off your devices. Get children involved in the planning and preparation of healthy meals and snacks with age-appropriate tasks, following the Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. Help children learn about local, seasonal foods and try new foods together. Grow your own vegetables and fruit and use them with your child in their favourite healthy recipes. The Cooking with Kids guide shares some tips and ideas for involving children in the kitchen.
Get Creative – Try activities such as building an activity pack filled with art and craft supplies, constructing a playhouse using materials found lying around (e.g., cardboard, tape, and fabric), reading together, and playing board games with family and friends. The Talk Box shares some fun and creative screen-free ideas for creating language-rich environments. 101 Ways to Power off and play! also shares some great screen-free activities.
Make Bedrooms Screen-Free Zones – Save bedrooms for sweet dreams, not bright screens! Regular, uninterrupted sleep is important for kids to grow and be healthy. According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology’s 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth, children ages five-to-13 should be getting nine-to-11 hours of sleep per night. Turn screens off at least one hour before bedtime. Encourage children to do a screen-free activity, like reading a book, before bedtime.
Take small steps to reduce screen time and increase mindful use of screens. It is all about helping children power off their devices and play more often!