Written by Yuki Hayashi
(5 min read)
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Who doesn’t love to veg out in front of the TV or scroll through social media? I certainly do! After a busy day when the kids are finally asleep, I look forward to relaxing and watching an episode of my current streaming obsession. Screens are used in my household for many reasons: entertainment, work, managing the household, and even as an occasional distraction (yes, the cartoons do come on when I need a moment of peace).
Screen time refers to any time spent using a screen-based device, like your smartphone, tablet, computer, television, or video game console. Digital media and screen time can enhance daily life when used thoughtfully and appropriately for educational purposes, to communicate, or do tasks for work/school. But excessive screen use can take time away from social interactions, physical activity, downtime, play/hobbies, and sleep. It can be harmful to our health and well-being, especially if you spend your leisure or “free” time using screens while sitting or lying down.
The good news is there are ways to manage your “recreational” screen time use (i.e. leisure not work-related) to limit the harmful side effects. First, it’s important to understand what counts as too much screen time. Based on research from around the world, Canadian health experts have created screen use guidelines for youth under 17 years of age, with the emphasis on the less screen time, the better.
|Age||Recommended hours of screen time|
|Under 2 years||None|
|2-4 years||Less than 1 hour a day|
|5-17 years||No more than 2 hours of recreational screen time a day|
|Over 18 years||No conclusive guidelines, but less is best|
Even if you understand the guidelines, they can still be hard to follow. A family media plan is a great tool to help you create and follow media rules that are in line with your values. This can be done for each member of your family and/or household (get your roommates on board!) or for yourself.
Here is a step-by-step guide on HOW TO create a household media plan.
1. Set your screen-free zones
It’s important to dedicate screen-free areas within the home. Write down which screen-free areas are specific to all members of your household. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Kitchen and/or dining room
2. Set your screen-free times
There are certain times of the day that should be screen-free, such as dinnertime and before bedtime. Write down the screen-free times for each household member, such as:
- 1 hour before bed
- Meal or snack times
- Family time
- School pick-up/drop-off
- 3:30-4:30 p.m. is outdoor playtime
- While walking across the road
3. Set your device curfew
- For each household member, write down the time when all devices are turned off for the night.
- Write down where all devices will charge overnight (this should not be in a child’s bedroom)
- Think about using an alarm clock instead of your phone’s alarm to avoid “accidentally” using your smartphone after bedtime.
4. Choose and diversify your media
Use different types of media to promote interaction, connection, and creativity. Set rules that allow household members to:
- Co-view: allow children to watch media with a parent or trusted adult to promote discussion
- Co-play: allow children to play video games or use apps with a parent or adult (this builds positive connections and adults are aware of how children are spending their time)
- Watch educational shows
- Use apps that train your brain through memory games, problem-solving, trivia, etc.
- Use media to video chat with friends or relatives
- Avoid using media as a babysitter
- Children can be encouraged to ask a parent’s permission before visiting new websites or downloading new shows, apps or games
5. Discuss the benefits of decreasing the amount of time spent on screens
Write down how each person will benefit from powering off, such as more time to:
- Play outside
- Read books
- Play games
- Play with friends
- Be with family
- Make things
- Be physically active
- Get more sleep
6. Talk to children about online safety and being good “digital citizens”
- Discuss the consequences of cyberbullying and tell a parent or trusted adult if they, or others, are being bullied or treated badly online
- Take action if your child is being cyberbullied (if needed, consider separating them from social media platforms)
- Review privacy settings on all sites with your children. Review your own privacy settings as well.
- Do not give out personal information online
- Do not share private photos online or forward other’s photos/texts without permission
- Do not chat online with people you have not met in person
- Tell parents or a trusted adult if they receive messages or photos that make them uncomfortable
- Stick up for others online
The Canadian Pediatric Society has a lot of information about screens and children, including tips for healthy screen use. For a version of the Household Media Plan (created by the American Academy of Pediatrics) you can complete online, click here.
Join the conversation: How do you reduce your screen time throughout the day?