The Conversation: Is your child addicted to screens? Here’s what you can do about it

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The following limits on screen time are recommended for young children:

• No screen time for children younger than two years (except for video-calling with friends and family).

• Less than one hour per day of routine or regular screen time for children two to five years old.

• Avoid screens for at least one hour before bedtime.

• Maintain daily “screen-free” times, especially for family meals and reading books.

What you can do as a parent

The Canadian Paediatric Society’s 2019 guidelines include helpful recommendations for parents:

1. Manage screen use. You can achieve this by creating a family media plan with individualized time and content limits and learning about parental controls and privacy settings. Other tips include co-viewing and talking about content with your children, discouraging use of multiple devices at once, obtaining all passwords and log-in information and discussing appropriate online behaviours.

2. Encourage meaningful screen use. This involves prioritizing daily (non-screen) routines over screen use and helping children and teens to choose age-appropriate content and to recognize problematic content or behaviours. You can become part of your children’s media lives and advocate for schools and child-care programs to consider developing their own plan for digital literacy and screen use.

3. Model healthy screen use. Review your own media habits and plan time for alternative play and activities. Encourage daily “screen-free” times. Turn off your own screens when they are not in use (including background TV). Avoid screens at least one hour before bedtime and discourage recreational screen use in bedrooms.

4. Monitor for signs of problematic use. These signs include: complaints about being bored or unhappy without access to technology and oppositional behaviour in response to screen-time limits. Screen use that interferes with sleep, school, face-to-face interactions, offline play and physical activities is also problematic, as are negative emotions following online interactions.

Integrate screens mindfully

We are fortunate to live in a time of such rapid technological innovation. These technologies open up tremendous opportunities for most (if not all) domains of life, including new and different opportunities for families to connect, engage and bond.

But we do need to be mindful of how we integrate these technologies into our lives and of the consequences they have on ourselves, our relationships and our children.

If you are concerned about digital media use in your family, we recommend that you develop a family media plan. You can also see your family physician or a clinical psychologist to discuss your concerns.

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