Toddlers should tune out

Feb 22, 2018 | News

More than half of Vancouver parents surveyed reported allowing their children to use electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, despite health guidelines. A team surveyed parents of children under two years old at community health centres about the amount of time spent in front of any electronic media device such as televisions, computers, cell phones, and tablets. 

“We noticed that we were seeing a lot of use of screens in younger kids,” said Reda Wilkes, VCH Public Health Nurse and study co-author. “During vaccination clinics, instead of holding their child and cuddling them when they got pain after a shot, parents would be flashing their smartphone in front of them to try and distract them with a video.”

Research results

  • 42% of parents said they did not allow their children any screen time.
  • 41% allowed their kids up to 30 minutes per day.
  • 18% gave kids an hour or more screen time per day.

Reda Wilkes, Public Health Nurse at Three Bridges Community Health Centre; Flo Escandor, Public Health Nurse at South Community Health Centre; and Annie Lau at the Family Immunization Clinic at BC Children’s Hospital conducted the research under mentor Dr. Wendy Hall from the UBC School of Nursing. Funding for this study was from the VCH Research Challenge.

The study found that parents’ top reasons for their children’s screen time are:

  • needing time to complete household chores
  • coping with a busy workday
  • and the belief that it helped with their child’s speech and language development.

How can health care providers help?

You can help by talking to parents to ensure they are aware of screen time recommendations and their rationale. In children less than two years of age, screen time has been associated with expressive language delays and irregular sleep schedules. You can help support parents by helping to identify factors increasing screen time use and suggest alternatives to screen time use when parents are busy or to calm their child.

Guidelines for parents & caregivers

The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) offers the following tips for kids:

  • Discourage screen time for children less than 2 years of age with the exception of live video chat.
  • For children 2 to 5 years, limit routine or regular screen time to less than 1 hour per day.
  • Children younger than 5 years learn best from live, immersive interactions. Given the choice, they will nearly always opt for talking, playing or being read to over screen time in any form.
  • Maintain daily ‘screen-free’ times, especially for family meals and book-sharing.
  • Avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime, given the potential for sleep effects.

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