Toddler Screen Time | Pediatricians revise their recommendations

(Toronto) The Canadian Pediatric Society has dropped its five-year-old guideline that limited “screen time” for toddlers and preschoolers, urging parents to prioritize educational, interactive and age-appropriate programming.

In new guidelines released Thursday, the Canadian Pediatric Society still advises against letting children under the age of 2 spend time in front of screens, except for chatting “with caring adults,” such as chatting with grandparents.

For children 2 to 5 years old, parents should limit regular or “sedentary” screen time to a maximum of one hour per day.

But the Canadian Pediatric Society’s previous recommendation, which set a hard cap of one hour per day for these children aged 2 to 5, has been relaxed to now advise “interactive forms” of use, such as educational programming. and family movie nights, says Calgary pediatrician Janice Heard, a member of the Digital Health Task Force at the Canadian Pediatric Society.

Dr. Heard argues that parents would be better off reducing passive screen use and emphasizing family and communal use, while modeling healthy use.

“The best thing they can do for their child is to interact with them one-on-one, if they can,” says the pediatrician, well aware that the pandemic lockdowns have likely reversed previous initiatives to curb the use of screens among different age groups.

“Then, children 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. »

Dr. Heard admits that the screens themselves are not bad, but they replace activities essential to the development of the child. So excessive screen use for young children can interfere with language development and social behavior, she says.

The new guidelines emphasize four principles: limiting screen time, mitigating risks, using screens mindfully, and modeling healthy use.

But it is the abandonment of the recommended limits which, hopes Mme Heard, will encourage parents to set their own passive viewing limits and consider when, how and why they allow screen use for young children.

And according to Dr. Heard, the same principles can be extrapolated to older children and even adolescents, for whom the Pediatric Society issued similar guidelines in 2019: setting limits based on each child was encouraged, without general guidelines.

Stressful for parents

Limits recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society have long been a source of stress for many families, who don’t know what’s acceptable, says Natalie Coulter, director of the Digital Literacy Research Institute at York University. , in Toronto.

“It’s assuming it’s easy to figure out what’s good and what’s not, but even trying (to define) what a ‘screen’ is becomes more difficult,” 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 definition. If you go to school through a screen, is that considered screen time? »

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

Stress about how to meet screen time recommendations was a recurring theme among parents surveyed, she says, and the very notion of imposed limits is now outdated. “Parents are under so much pressure and so much guilt. It’s a bit unrealistic and it just adds to a kind of parental feeling of not being good enough,” says Coulter.

“I have two daughters (and) I struggle with it, it’s not like I have brilliant answers. But I think that, like everything, as soon as you set very strict binary rules, it closes the dialogue a bit. »

The new guidelines also encourage pediatricians to discuss screen use during routine visits — Dr. Heard worries that too few families she’s spoken to seem aware of screen-related risks.

“I would ask them the question: how much screen time does your child have? They’ll say, “Oh, well: probably an hour before school, a few hours after school, then in the evening…and they have a television in their room”. And I’ll say to myself: Ouch, ouch, ouch, we haven’t done a very good job of educating our young parents. »

Even small changes can have a big effect on families willing to limit screen use, she says: planning screen-free times and areas at home, or even opening a book or doing some crafts.

“At the Canadian Pediatric Society, we are all parents, too. We 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 entire lives. »

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