Screen Time and Young Children

Parents often wonder when their baby can start to use a Tablet or similar screened device. Although technically babies as young as 9 months old can interact with a tablet such as an iPad, this is not recommended. In fact, screen activities and technologies, old or new; do not offer all of the vital forms of stimulation young children need, especially during the important first few formative years of life. Developing children absolutely require personal 2-way communication and face-to face interaction with others in real time and space. They also need to be able to touch, feel, play, experiment and respond. All of these activities are essential to promote optimal development of the brain and its many functions that lay the foundation for learning and overall good health, well into adulthood.

As technology advances and our society becomes more dependent on screened devices,  related mobile and digital technology and the internet, we have come to understand the need to balance the benefits of such technology with the possible side effects, especially among growing young children. So what are some of the concerns? According the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS), too much screen time can increase a child’s risk of becoming overweight, sleep-deprived, less school-ready, inattentive, aggressive and less able to self-soothe.

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According to the latest CPS policy statement (June 2017), screen time is not recommended for children less than 2 years of age. For children aged 2 to 5 years old, parents and caretakers should limit routine or regular screen time to less than 1 hour per day. Setting limits and forming good habits at an early age is the best approach. Families can create and agree upon their own “family screen time” plan. In addition, parents should be very mindful of when children use these devices and what they are viewing. Of course this applies to older children as well. Here are some more general tips adapted from the CPS recommendations:

  • Parents need to be good role models with their own screen use(on all devices);
  • Turn off devices for mealtimes, reading with your child or doing things together as a family;
  • Turn off screens when no one is watching;
  • Avoid using screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime and keep all screens out of your child’s bedroom.
  • Choose healthy activities, like reading, outdoor play and crafts instead of screen time;
  • When possible, make screen time an activity you and your child do together and watch with your child and discuss what you're seeing;
  • Choose educational, age-appropriate and interactive programs and apps and try before you buy;
  • Make sure your child watches programs you are familiar with and approve of;
  • Avoid commercial and adult or ‘entertainment’ programming.

Note that these recommendations are in line with those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

On a final note, parents often worry that by limiting exposure to screen time and new technology they may be “holding their kids back”. There is no proof that introducing technology at an early age improves a child’s development. So, while sensible and mindful screen time can be great fun, entertaining and educational, face-to-face interactions and activities are still preferred!