It’s incredibly easy to sit a child in front of a screen and have them be entertained for hours. In this day and age, it’s the norm to let children have daily screen time. How many of you know a young child that can navigate a smartphone or tablet better than you? It’s to the point that a child’s developing knowledge of technology isn’t even a surprise anymore.
Because of the amount of screen time children receive on a daily basis, however, Canadian researchers thought it might be beneficial to see how this might impact children. They wondered if all this time in front of a screen could have a negative impact on behavior. According to their results, they thought right.
Screen Time and Childhood Behaviour
After studying over 2,400 Canadian families, researchers from the University of Alberta found that children who spend two hours or more with a screen display significant behavioral differences.
When compared to children who only spent half an hour a day with a screen, children who spent two hours or more developed stronger tendencies to act out and show oppositional behavior. The researchers even noticed an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (1, 2)
Within the past few years, updated recommendations for a balance in children activity and sedentary time was released in Canada. They are referred to as the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. These guidelines state that within 24 hours, the average child should receive at least 180 minutes of physical activity, spend no more than an hour in front of a screen, and get between 10 and 13 hours of sleep. (3)
Studies found that very few Canadian children actually meet these guidelines. Pairing these findings with the study on screen time, researchers have even begun challenging the 1-hour max screen time, saying children should engage in no more than a half hour of screen time a day. (1, 3)
Protecting Children from Screen Time Damage
Besides reducing the amount of screen time a child is receiving, the researchers also studied how much both sleep and physical activity could help lessen the effects of screen time. They found that sleep – though obviously beneficial and necessary – had a lesser impact on screen time damage than physical activity. (1)
“Interestingly, it wasn’t physical activity on its own that was protective; the activity needed to have structure,” said Piush Mandhane, an associate professor of pediatrics in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. Mandhane explained that having children engage in a structured activity such as sports helped prevent negative behavioral issues from developing. (1)
When it comes to raising your own children, it’s really up to you how you want to approach things such as screen time. Try a couple of different routines and see what works best. Get your children involved in something fun and mentally engaging for their physical activity. Try sports or simply get them outside riding bikes. Maybe try having one night a week dedicated to family movie nights, making screen time for of a special occasion than a default. Help them discover new interests and develop different hobby. Get them on a solid nighttime routine. All children are different and respond better to some things than others, especially when it comes to screen time. Try out some different routines and stick to what works best.