Prof. Jess Haines appears on The Nature of Things
Prof. Jess Haines appears on The Nature of Things (CBC handout)

Many Canadian parents worry that their kids spend far more time online than experts recommend, but are those limits reasonable — particularly as public health recommendations advise us to stay home as much as possible during the pandemic?

Prof. Jess Haines, from the University of Guelph’s Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, is co-director of the Guelph Family Health Study. She and her research team have been testing ways to help families with young children develop healthy eating, sleep, screen time and exercise routines.

She has conducted several studies looking at kids’ use of screens, including examining how parents’ screen use affects kids and why cutting off screen time can backfire as a disciplinary tactic.

This Friday, Haines will appear on the The Nature of Things on CBC TV to discuss the latest research on how our “digital babysitters” affect children’s development.

The episode, called Kids vs. Screens, will explore how screen time affects children’s learning abilities and their mental health, whether screen use can become an addiction and which ways to manage screen use are most effective.

Based on the team’s research, Haines has found several ways for parents to manage screens in an era where there’s little escape from them, including the following:

  1. Work with kids to set screen time limits Research has shown that when parents set limits, their children reduce their overall screen time. Consistency can help children and adolescents develop a clear understanding of screen time rules.
  2. Keep mealtime screen-free – Unplugging during mealtime has been associated with better dietary intake and with improved quality of conversation.
  3. Avoid using screen time to reward or punish behaviour U of G research has found this can cause children to value screen time more highly, leading them to crave more of it.
  4. Keep screens out of children’s bedrooms Keeping screen-based devices out of bedrooms improves sleep quality and health for children, adolescents and parents.

Haines is available for interviews.

Kids vs. Screens airs Friday, Nov. 13, 9 p.m., on CBC TV, with further tips for managing screen time on The Nature of Things website.

Prof. Jess Haines