The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) has dropped firm screen time limits for young children, but that doesn’t mean parents should take a laissez-faire approach toward screen use, says a University of Guelph professor of biomechanics.
Dr. Lori Ann Vallis is a member of the Guelph Family Health Study, which follows families as they develop healthy eating, activity, sleep and screen time routines. Also a professor in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences within the College of Biological Science, Vallis studies locomotor control and its influences on movement, vision and aging.
The CPS recently removed the recommendation of one hour a day of screen time for children over age two, reflecting changing societal relationships with technology. The organization now encourages parents to model minimal and mindful screen time use for their children.
“The reality is that there are 24 hours in a day,” says Vallis. “What parents need to consider is that if screen use is not monitored carefully, then some other activity within that 24-hour period will be reduced, and often this is sleep and/or physical activity.”
Vallis points to a 2022 physical activity report card by ParticipACTION, which gave children between five and 17 years old an “F” for following recommended sleep and physical activity guidelines.
“Failing to meet those guidelines may put children at risk for developing attentional, emotional and behavioural issues, in addition to an increased obesity risk,” she says.
That means screen time should be the last priority for young children.
“Parents should be encouraged to prioritize meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity and sleep within each 24-hour period,” explains Vallis. “If there is time remaining in the day, then engaging in a screen-based activity, like a movie or video game, can be a fun way to spend time together as a family.”
Many healthy lifestyle habits are established in preschool years, and often continue into adolescence, she says, adding that she hopes children are exposed early to healthy screen time habits and routines and will continue those habits into adulthood.
Vallis is available for interviews.
Dr. Lori Ann Vallis