In the age of technology, children are growing up surrounded by screens, from tablets and smartphones to computers and televisions. While these devices can offer valuable educational content and entertainment, concerns arise about the potential physical and psychological effects too much screen time can have on young bodies and minds. Let's delve into some of the negative impacts of screen use first, before exploring how technology can be harnessed as a force for good.
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, children aged 5 to 17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. (1) It goes without saying that excessive screen time leads to a sedentary lifestyle which can contribute to health issues such as obesity and poor cardiovascular health. Staying inside behind a screen all day also means that kiddos aren’t having as many social interactions as they need to help develop their communication and social skills.
Sleep is crucial for a child's growth and cognitive development and high screen use before bed can disrupt a child’s normal sleep pattern. This happens because screens emit blue light which suppresses the production of melatonin (the hormone that helps us fall asleep). Studies have found that excessive screen time use in the evening can cause insomnia, difficulty staying asleep, and a lack of focus the next day. (2) In order to combat this, you can set many devices to night mode, which will filter blue light. Better yet, many families set a technology curfew an hour before bedtime or replace this screen time with story time.
Ensuring that your kiddos are getting plenty of exposure to daylight during the day will help regulate their circadian rhythm and sleep pattern. This is even more valuable in the colder months when daylight is limited. Check out our other blog about the benefits of playing outdoor sports in the winter months for more information about this.
Research suggests a correlation between excessive screen time and behavioral issues, including attention problems and aggression. (3) It's vital for parents to monitor screen content and duration to mitigate development of these potential problems.
A child watching videos online or playing video games for a few hours a day may seem harmless, but repeated exposure to this kind of screen time can have adverse effects on their brain development. When children use screens, their brains are flooded with dopamine (the body’s feel-good hormone) which is typically released as reward for hard work. In order to regulate these surges, a child’s brain may produce less dopamine naturally, which could make it harder for them to experience joy from organic means such as exercise, being social and overcoming challenges. (4) Conceivably, this could lead to psychological and social problems in adolescence and beyond.
Parents play a crucial role in managing their child's screen time. Establishing clear and consistent limits helps create a healthy balance between screen activities and other essential aspects of a child's life. So how much screen time is too much? The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends:
For children under two years old screen time is not recommended.
For children two to five years old limit screen time to less than one hour a day.
For children older than five limit screen time to less than two hours a day. (5)
We understand that it isn’t always feasible to follow these guidelines and that changing habits may be very difficult, but being aware of how much time your kiddo is spending on screens is a good place to start.
If you’re struggling for ideas on alternative activities to screen time, there are hundreds of helpful articles online filled with great ideas to get your kiddos creative, active and independent. Here are a few we suggest:
Draw a poster for the video game / TV show they are really interested in
Create a comic book strip for their chosen superhero
Write a letter to their favorite youtube star / celebrity
Create a scavenger hunt outside where they must find things that are colorful, beautiful, delicate, etc
Build a fort using tables, chairs, blankets and pillows
Design a maze or obstacle course for their toys
Choreograph a dance to their most-loved song
Use chalk to draw a race track outside that they must complete on their bike / skateboard / scooter etc
Pixels and Play
Parents should actively engage with their child's screen activities. You can direct them to age-appropriate content and encourage their use of educational games or interactive learning experiences that stimulate cognitive development. From language acquisition to problem-solving skills, there is a diverse array of tools available online to enhance educational outcomes. This article from Goodhousekeeping.com has a well-sourced list of recommended apps. (6)
For families who want their child to learn French, Netflix has a host of shows for kids that are available en francais. Shows like ‘Dinotrux’ and ‘Care Bears & Cousins’ are good for beginners because viewers will generally be able to understand what is being said from context. The sentences are short and the speed of the dialogue is slow so it is well-paced for new learners. For more advanced or older kiddos, shows like ‘Ever After High’ and the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ spin offs could be a good fit. The dialogue is a bit faster-paced and more conversational but still includes frequent pauses. Both shows include the option of English and French subtitles to help your little one follow along if needed.
In our opinion, the best use of technology is when it is blended with physical exercise, or Tech-ercise! A fantastic example of this is Pokemon Go! An interactive virtual reality game that encourages its users to get outside to catch pokémon. On average, users walked 2,000 more steps per day while using the app. (7)
Youtube is home to thousands of sport challenge videos that are perfect for getting your little one outside to learn and practice skills. Vancouver Rangers FC have created a series of soccer skill challenge videos that get your kiddos outside, moving and working towards a goal. Check them out, grab a ball and head down to the nearest park to see how many your soccer star can do.
In conclusion, while too much screen time can have negative effects on a child's physiology and psychology, judicious, and sometimes creative, use of technology can enhance cognitive and physical development. By actively managing and monitoring screen time, parents can empower their children to navigate the digital world while fostering a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
How do you balance screen use in your home? Let us know in the comments below.