School is out! While time away from school can allow for more vacations, outdoor play, camping, and other activities, it also tends to be a less structured time that can lead children and youth to participate in more screen time. With screen-based devices readily available, limiting screen time may seem like an impossible task. But the good news is that many strategies can be used to reduce screen time and improve your family’s overall health and wellbeing.
Although screen time can have positive aspects, such as providing an important way to learn and communicate in school, too much of it can have a negative impact on the health of young people. For example, too much screen time can make it difficult for kids to get enough physical activity and good quality sleep. It is also linked to lower energy levels, decreased focus at school, and a higher risk of symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Young people between the ages 5 to 17 years are spending an average of two to five hours a day using screens. The challenge with this is that screen time can often replace other healthy social and physical activities. Minimizing recreational screen time (e.g. watching television, messaging friends or playing video games) can encourage kids to live a balanced day, which includes physical activity, face-to-face interaction, a mix of fun and educational activities, and a good night’s sleep.
To promote a balanced day, the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines and the Canadian Pediatric Society suggest sticking to the following screen time recommendations per age group:
- Under 2 years: none
- 2-4 years: less than 1 hour a day
- 5-17 years: no more than 2 hours a day of recreational screen time
Working towards reducing your child’s screen time may seem like a challenge – especially if they are accustomed to much more than 0 to 2 hours of screen time per day. However, there are many great strategies that you can adopt to help your kids and family reduce their screen time.
Six tips to reduce screen time:
- Model healthy screen use. Remember that you are setting an example for your kids with your own time spent in front of a screen.
- Keep a journal. This is a helpful strategy to use as you are getting started. Log your family’s screen time to find out how much time your family is spending participating in screen time compared to other healthy behaviours (e.g. physical activity, and face-to-face interaction). This will also give you an idea of where you fall in terms of the recommended guidelines. Use this baseline to help you set goals.
- Make healthy behaviours a priority. Have your kids complete certain tasks (e.g. cleaning their room, spending 1 hour outside, reading 20 pages of a book, etc.) before allowing them to use screen-based devices.
- Set aside time to unplug. Choose “screen-free hours” throughout the day where your family is encouraged to turn off their screens and find other ways to stay busy. Creating a list of activities to choose from can be helpful (e.g. puzzle, playing catch, board game, going to the park, etc.).
- Create “technology-free zones”. Try setting rules around where your family can use screens to create a balanced day. For example, encouraging your family to only use screens in common rooms (e.g. living room) can help you manage and monitor screen use, while discouraging screens in bedrooms can promote more family conversations and good sleep hygiene.
- Make screen time more active. This is a great strategy to use when you’re having a difficult time reducing screen time. You can make screen time more active by setting a timer and challenging your family to walk on the spot for a few minutes or complete 10 push ups or jumping jacks every 20 or 30 minutes when watching TV.
Many strategies are available to help your family cut back on screen time. Consider trying out a few to find out which ones work best for your family.
For more information and tips on how to reduce screen time, visit the following websites: