In office visits I ask routinely about "screen time" at home. Screen time encompasses any watching of a screen -- television, video games, movies, iPad use and the like. I am frequently blown away by the staggering number of hours our children spend in front of a screen.
The official recommendation by the Canadian Pediatric Society for all screen time is two hours per day for children over the age of two years. Children under two years should watch no TV, though many children are watching far more than this on a daily basis.
Why the restriction? Screen time has been shown to cause behavioral problems including inattention, poor sleep and obesity. Symptoms of ADHD in children are actually more prevalent after an episode of screen time! Physical development in children is so important, and if a child is watching TV they aren't exercising or playing outside.
While watching TV, children often eat unhealthy snacks, and are subsequently more at risk of obesity and poor nutrition, including vitamin D deficiency. The literature is teaming with data on the poorer health of children with excessive screen time. It isn't theoretical anymore.
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Here are some tips for busy families:
•Less screen time is better
•Don't allow screens to "babysit" your children.
•Start teaching healthy screen time habits when your children are young.
•Consider no television watching during the school week, or at least only after homework.
•Please don't keep televisions in your children's' rooms.
•Consider keeping computers in shared spaces only and not in the bedroom. Online protection may be helpful to ensure you know what your child is up to online.
•Role model a healthy relationship with screens -- this is a tough one for many parents!
•Have all caregivers follow the same rules -- consistency is key!
•Encourage educational shows involving history, science, nature and the like. You may all learn something! Children's TV shows are often stereotype-filled and violent.
•Avoid violent shows. They have been shown to increase violence in children.
•Keep screens off during meal times.
•Avoid using screens within 2 hours of bedtime.
•Find learning opportunities in what you are watching. Teach about sharing and friendship and love etc. when you see this in shows. Similarly discuss the concept of advertising in commercials with your child.
•Consider planning screen exposure on a weekly schedule. You can best ensure no excessive viewing this way.
•Discuss stereotypes and characterizations depicted on television. If you follow what your child watches you can discuss what you see with them and chose the best shows to watch with your child.
Now -- no more screen time -- get outside now that its finally summer!
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