Doctors should counsel parents of young children on screen time: Canadian Paediatric Society

As exposure to digital media in Canadian family life increases, so have concerns about how screen time affects children and families. A new statement from the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) recommends that physicians and health care providers counsel parents and caregivers of young children on how to minimize screen time and mitigate its potential negative effects. The CPS also recommends that physicians guide parents on how to mindfully use and model healthy screen use to encourage positive habits.

The statement, released today, focuses on children under five years, acknowledging that a child’s earliest screen encounters can be formative and that early exposure can increase the likelihood of overuse in later life.

“Children younger than 5 years old need active play and family time to develop essential life skills such as language and creative thinking,” says Dr. Michelle Ponti, chair of the CPS Digital Health Task Force. “As health care providers, we must counsel parents on the importance of face-to-face interaction and encourage adults to model healthy screen habits.”

The CPS urges physicians to counsel parents on the “4Ms” of screen time: minimizing, mitigating, mindfully using and modeling healthy use of screens.

Minimize screen time:

  • Screen time for children under 2 years old is not recommended.
  • For children 2 to 5 years, limit screen time to less than 1 hour per day
  • Avoid screens at least 1 hour before bed.

Mitigate the risks associated with screen time:

  • Prioritize educational, age-appropriate and interactive programming.
  • Be present and engaged when screens are used and co-view with children.

Be mindful of all screen use in the home and model positive habits:

  • Turn off screens when not in use and avoid background TV.
  • Be aware of how adults’ use of screens can influence children.

“Parents can help kids develop a positive relationship with screens by making sure they are only used at particular times, for specific reasons,” says Matthew Johnson, Director of Education at Media Smarts and a member of the CPS Digital Health Task Force. “Whenever possible, parents should select high-quality, age-appropriate screen content and watch or play alongside their children to encourage them to ask critical questions about what they’re seeing.”

A 2016 survey of CPS members found that parents sought advice about their children’s screen time in four main areas: duration, setting limits, the effects on health and well-being and optimal content. With the release of this statement, physicians and health care providers will be better positioned to counsel parents on best practice strategies to promote health and development in a digital world.