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Screen time for kids: new guidelines from Canadian doctors


The Canadian Pediatric Society has moved away from setting hard time limits on screen use in toddlers and preschoolers, instead encouraging parents to prioritize materials that are educational, interactive, and age-friendly. age.

New guidelines released Thursday morning still recommend no screens for children under two, except for video chatting with others, such as grandparents.

But a previous recommendation to limit children aged two to five to one hour a day of screen time has been dropped as the group of doctors reassess our changing relationship with technology.

Calgary pediatrician Dr. Janice Heard, a member of the group’s digital health task force, says parents would be better off focusing on reducing passive screen use, co-viewing with children, and modeling the desired behavior.

“The best thing they can do for their child is to interact with them one-on-one, if they can,” Heard says, suspecting pandemic lockdowns have reversed pre-COVID-19 momentum to curb the use of screens among different age groups.

“Then they will naturally reduce the time their children spend on screens when they recognize that it doesn’t teach them anything, that it doesn’t help them in any particular way. And for very young children, it’s actually quite harmful.”

Heard says the screens themselves aren’t inherently bad, but they displace activities that are essential to a child’s development. She says excessive screen use for young children can interfere with language development, prosocial behavior and executive functioning.

The new guidelines emphasize four principles: minimize, mitigate, use mindfully and model healthy use of screens.

But it’s the abandonment of the recommended timeframes that Heard hopes will encourage parents and families to actively set limits on passive consumption and consider when, how and why they allow screen use for young children. .

Heard says the same principles can be extrapolated to older children and adolescents, for whom the Pediatric Society issued similar guidelines in 2019 that encouraged limits based on the individual child, without harsh time limits.

Pediatric society deadlines have long been a source of stress for many families who don’t know what’s acceptable, says Natalie Coulter, director of York University’s Digital Literacy Research Institute.

“It assumes a real simplicity of ‘right time’ and ‘bad time.’ Even trying (to define) what a screen is becomes difficult,” says Coulter, associate professor of communication and media studies.

“There is now a very blurred line between the real world and the digital world. There is no longer a clear description. If you go to school via a screen, is it time to screen? Is it real or digital?

Coulter is part of a research group that surveyed parents of children ages 4 to 12 about screen use during the pandemic. The study includes 15 families in Canada, as well as others in Australia, Colombia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, China and the United States.

Stress over how to meet screen recommendations was a common theme, she says, and the notion of imposed deadlines is outdated.

“Parents are under so much pressure and so much guilt. It’s kind of unrealistic and it just adds to a kind of parenting feeling of not being good enough,” Coulter says.

“I have two daughters (and) I struggle with it, it’s not like I have these brilliant answers. But I think, like everything, as soon as you lay down very strict binary rules, this closes the dialog a bit. bit.”

Matthew Johnson, Education Director of Ottawa-based MediaSmarts Group, recognizes a tightrope when it comes to messaging. He helped draft the new guidelines as a member of the Pediatric Society’s Digital Health Task Force and notes that focusing on harms can undermine constructive advice on how to develop media literacy.

“There is also a risk that if a screen time guideline seems unrealistic, it will simply be ignored,” Johnson says.

“It will feel like if you can’t reach that guideline, because it’s too unrealistic, then there’s nothing you can do to manage the role of screens in your family. I think it’s much more helpful to give parents strategies to establish positive uses and positive relationships with screens.”

The new guidelines also encourage pediatricians to discuss screen use during routine visits, with Heard worrying that too few families she has spoken with seem to be aware of screen-related risks.

“I’ll ask them: How much screen time does your child get? “Oh, well, probably an hour before school, a few hours after school, then in the evening, and they have their TV in their bedroom,” she says.

“And I just think, ‘Oh, boy, we haven’t done a good job raising our young parents.’

Even small changes can have a big effect on families willing to limit screen use, she says, suggesting screen-free times of day, screen-free zones at home, and turning to books and crafts as alternatives.

“It’s not like they have to change their whole life. But even doing one thing allows them to improve the outcomes of what’s going to happen with their kids,” Heard says.

“(At) CPS, we’re all parents too, we all understand. We want to be able to give people concrete things they can do that will make a difference that won’t completely disrupt their lives.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2022.

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