Parents should be more concerned with how their school-aged children and adolescents use digital devices than with the total time they spend entranced by screens, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society.
The pediatricians’ group is still encouraging parents to minimize screen time, but it stopped short of dictating a ceiling in its first digital-media guidelines for older children in the smartphone and social-media era. The CPS said it would be “very difficult” to set cut and dried time limits for screen time technology that can be detrimental in some circumstances and beneficial in others.
“The sweet spot would be low to moderate use,” said Michelle Ponti, a London, Ont., pediatrician who chairs the CPS’s digital health task force, which wrote the guidelines released Thursday. “It also depends on content and context. Violent video games are going to have different impacts than family movie night.”
The CPS guideline defines “moderate” use as between two and four hours a day. The new guidelines apply to children as young as 5 and teens as old as 19.
Two years ago, the CPS released guidelines for younger children that advised no screen time at all for those under the age of 2, and no more than an hour a day for children between the ages of 2 and 5.
The amorphous nature of the term “screen time” is just one of the challenges parents are facing as they try to steer their children through a digital coming of age that looks nothing like their own.
Social media, for example, isolates some teenagers, while deepening real-life friendships for others – it depends on how they are used.
Nonetheless, three-quarters of Canadian parents are concerned about how much time their children spend using digital media, with 36 per cent reporting their children between the ages of 10 and 13 spend more than three hours a day parked in front of a screen for fun, the CPS document says.
“It’s an area where parents feel the least prepared to parent,” said Cori Cross, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and one of the co-authors of a similar set of guidelines released in 2016 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“It’s like the norms keep changing and they keep moving the bar, so you’re not sure, as a parent, where you stand with your rules in your house versus somebody else’s.”