"Screen time" is a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games. Screen time is sedentary activity, meaning you are being physically inactive while sitting down. Very little energy is used during screen time.

“Television is the menace that everyone loves to hate but can’t seem to live without.” -Paddy Chayevsky according to the Kaiser Family Foundation: 

Kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs. Kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost 2 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games. Counting all media outlets, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day. The effects of television on children are not good. 

Children who watch too much television:

1) Are at a much higher risk of childhood obesity because:

  • Sitting and watching a screen is the time that is not spent being physically active
  • TV commercials and other screen ads can lead to unhealthy food choices. Most of the time, the foods in ads that are aimed at kids are high in sugar, salt, or fats
  • Children eat more when they are watching TV, especially if they see ads for food

2) Are more likely to display aggressive behavior: Children naturally copy what they see. (For a simple, chilling experiment, allow your son to watch professional wrestling and see how long it takes before he tackles his sister)

3) Are more likely to engage in “risky behaviours” when they get older

4) Have less energy

5) Sleep and eating disorders (Make it hard for your child to sleep at night)

6) Have an attention problem, school difficulties

7) Are more-exposed to commercials, advertisements, and propaganda. “Background TV actually disrupts the children’s activities-their play, the parent-child interactions, and it’s related to poorer executive functioning.” “When it is on, a play is not as complex, and that’s a really important part of how a child develops”

Limiting your child’s screen time may seem like an impossible chore or it may seem like a battle that is too difficult to fight. But it is worth fighting. Implementing just a few steps right away will help you implement the others. Television viewing is a momentum gathering behavior. The more you do it, the more compelled you are to continue (advertisements have that effect on viewers). But the opposite is also true. The more you turn it off, the easier it becomes to keep off. You’ve just got to start somewhere. 

To help inspire parents, here are some tips to help limit your child’s screen time:

1. Set the example: Sorry to start with the toughest one, but there is nowhere else to start. Children will always gravitate toward the modeled behaviors of their parents. If they see you reading a book, they are more likely to read. And if they see you watching television, so will they.

2. Be the parent: It is your job to encourage healthy behaviors and limit unhealthy ones – sometimes this means making unpopular decisions. Make these tough decisions for your children. And always go the next step of explaining why you have made the decision – this will help them follow through and someday choose it for themselves.

3. Set limited viewing times: If you are not going to turn off the television completely, choose the appropriate television viewing windows for your kids. It is much easier to limit their viewing habit if they understand that they can only watch one show in the morning and one show after school (as just an example).

3. Encourage other activities: Provide the necessary resources (books to read, board games, art supplies, sporting equipment etc). Play with Your Kids. Get down on the floor with your kids and pick up a doll, truck, or ball. 

4. Be involved in their lives: For many parents, it is just easier to turn on the television than to actually be involved in the lives of their children. But those intimate life details are required for successful parenting. So observe, listen, ask, and parent.

5. Observe your child’s behavioural changes: Television has an immediate impact on your child’s behaviour. After too much television/ video games, my children get irritable, aggressive, selfish, and impatient. I can tell almost the moment I walk in the door. Be on the look-out for these behavioral changes. When you start to notice them yourself, you’ll be less inclined to put your kids in front of the screen.

5. Value family meals and car rides: About two-thirds (64%) of young people say the TV is usually on during meals. That’s too bad because your family’s richest conversations will always take place during meals and in the car. Value those times with your kids. Don’t let the TV steal them from you. No TV in Bedrooms. Not your kids’ rooms. And not yours either.   

Screen Time Guidelines:

  • Children under age 2 should have no screen time. Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. 
  • A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens. Limit screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day for children over age 2.
  • Despite what ads may say, videos that are aimed at very young children do not improve their development.