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Description: How much time should toddlers and preschoolers be allowed to spend in front of screens, including televisions, computers, tablets, smartphones etc.)? Based on detailed reviews of current research the advice of the Canadian Pediatric Society used to be no more than 1 hour a day due to the lack of physical or cognitively challenging activity involved thought to be detrimental to toddler development. Very recently the Canadian Pediatric Society released a new set of guidelines. Why new guidelines and what do they involve? Well, think about it from a research perspective. Think about what a simple “only one hour a day of screen time for 2 through 5-year-olds might NOT take into account? Why might the two word descri0ptor ‘screen time’ not fully capture what is or could be involved in preschoolers’ engagement with screens? Once you have your hypothesis sorted out have a read through the article linked below to see what the updated guidelines include and what recent research they are based upon.

Source: Canadian pediatricians ditch toddler screen time limits in new guidance, Health, CTV News.

Date: November 24, 2022

Image by AndrewAngelov from Pixabay

Article Link:

Years ago, I was involved in analyzing data from a large-scale study examining the effects of television viewing time on children, teens and even adults. You can look through a graphic novel story about the study here. It involved gathering longitudinal data (2 years, 1973 and 1975) in three towns. At the start of the study one town (Notel), due to its location, had no television reception but were going to have one channel (the CBC) a few months after the first data collection as a signal-repeater station was installed on a nearby mountain top. Two comparable towns were included in the study, one which already had the CBC as its only station (Unitel) and one which was close to the American border and had several television stations available over the air (Multitel). I will leave you to dig into the graphic novel and to some of the other accounts of the data gathered in that study, but I can tell you that from a developmental perspective, looking at the children in the three towns the findings are best summarized as follows: time spent watching TV is time spend NOT doing other, more developmentally supportive, things. Now that the number of screens and screen linked activities available to children have skyrocketed that summary statement is still partly true, especially when physical activity opportunities are lost to sedentary screen time activities. But, even in the television study we found that the nature of television engagement varied across children. One finding was that the reading rates and relative reading levels of poor readers fell dramatically when television arrived compared to those of strong readers. There was also evidence that strong readers were more selective of what they watched on television, preferring educationally informative programming. Oh, and the seniors’ drop-in Notel closed before the second wave of data collection due to lack of attendance, suggesting that Notel seniors became more socially isolated following the introduction of television.

The linked article discussed the possibility that developmentally positive things could be done in moderation on ‘screens’ but did not provide much in the way of indications as to what such positive things might be. Given the increasingly serious concerns being raised about the role that social media is playing in the lives of older children a LOT more research-based information is needed by parents, teachers, and (in terms of policy and regulation) by legislators at all levels. There are some links below in the References (Further Reading) section that my be a start towards these goals but more is needed, and quickly.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What sorts of screen time limits should be placed on very young children (under 2-years-of-age), young children (2- to 5-years-of-age), early elementary and middle school children?
  2. How television and other screens are different and how might those differences influence the setting of developmentally appropriate use limits?
  3. Is it too late to do anything about the extent of screen time by young children and who should take primary responsibility for dealing with issues and concerns in this area?

References (Read Further):

Ponti, M (2022) Screen time and preschool children: Promoting health and development in a digital world, Position Statement, Canadian Pediatric Society. Link  Has a detailed reference list.

Ponti, M., Bélanger, S., Grimes, R., Heard, J., Johnson, M., Moreau, E., … & Williams, R. (2017). Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Paediatrics & Child Health. Link

Madigan, S., Racine, N., & Tough, S. (2020). Prevalence of preschoolers meeting vs exceeding screen time guidelines. JAMA pediatrics, 174(1), 93-95. Link

Madigan, S., Browne, D., Racine, N., Mori, C., & Tough, S. (2019). Association between screen time and children’s performance on a developmental screening test. JAMA pediatrics, 173(3), 244-250. Link

Browne, D. T., May, S. S., Colucci, L., Hurst-Della Pietra, P., Christakis, D., Asamoah, T., … & Prime, H. (2021). From screen time to the digital level of analysis: a scoping review of measures for digital media use in children and adolescents. BMJ open, 11(5), e046367. Link

Madigan, S., McArthur, B. A., Anhorn, C., Eirich, R., & Christakis, D. A. (2020). Associations between screen use and child language skills: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA pediatrics, 174(7), 665-675. Link

Straker, L., Zabatiero, J., Danby, S., Thorpe, K., & Edwards, S. (2018). Conflicting guidelines on young children’s screen time and use of digital technology create policy and practice dilemmas. The Journal of pediatrics, 202, 300-303. Link

Friel, C. P., Duran, A. T., Shechter, A., & Diaz, K. M. (2020). US children meeting physical activity, screen time, and sleep guidelines. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 59(4), 513-521. Link

Vanderloo, L. M., Carsley, S., Aglipay, M., Cost, K. T., Maguire, J., & Birken, C. S. (2020). Applying harm reduction principles to address screen time in young children amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 41(5), 335-336. Link