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Managing Screen Time- minimize, mitigate, be mindful and model

I must confess that my children were weaned on Sesame Street.  At that time, television was really the only screen in the house.  Today iPads, phone screens, television and computers all compete for the attention of our children.  And educators, health care professionals, and parents begun to sound the alarm about the amount of screen time our children are exposed to.

The evidence is also starting to mount.  Excessive screen time has been found to contribute to a sedentary lifestyle and childhood obesity. As well, an association between excessive screen time and attention difficulties has seen an increased link to language development and cognitive abilities. The use of screens also impacts the development of relationships within families and may then affect the ability to form social interactions.

The Canadian Pediatric Society, recently published recommendations on managing screen time in young children.  As children under the age of two have a difficulty time transferring information that occurs in two dimensions to the real three-dimensional world, the guidelines looked at children under the age of two separately from those from two to five.

The guidelines are as follows:

Minimize screen time:

  • Screen time for children younger than 2 years is not recommended
  • For children 2 to 5 years, limit routine or regular screen time to less than 1 hour per day
  • Ensure that sedentary screen time is not a routine part of child-care for children younger than 5 years
  • Maintain daily ‘screen-free’ times, especially for family meals and reading
  • Avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime, given the potential for melatonin-suppressing effect

Mitigate (reduce) the risks associated with screen time:

  • Be present and engaged when screens are used and, whenever possible, co-view with children
  • Be aware of content and prioritize educational, age-appropriate, and interactive programming
  • Use parenting strategies that teach self-regulation, calming and limit-setting
  • Model healthy use of screen time

It is difficult to be sensible in an environment of plenty-  we live in a world with too much food, too much distraction and too many screens.  While it is difficult, we can minimize, mitigate, and be mindful, of the risks for our children.

Dr. Bhooma Bhayana is a family physician in London and the mother of two young men and grandmother of one lovely princess! She continues to find wonder and enjoyment in family practice despite more than 30 years on the job!


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