Screen use by children and teens is a complex emerging phenomenon. While it has many benefits, its potential negative impacts are of growing concern. It is possible to achieve balanced screen time and to reduce its health risks. This page provides tips and recommendations to help parents make enlightened decisions regarding screen use according to different age levels.
Parents do not always have it easy when it comes to managing screen time at home. It can be quite complicated to create an environment that favours balanced digital technology use for all family members. Juggling each family member’s interests, needs and recommended screen time requires a hefty measure of thoughtfulness. Feeling guilty serves no purpose: it is better to set screen use rules, as a family with children’s input, depending on the situation and your family values. Applying the rules consistently and fairly is always the key to preventing frustrations from flaring up.
Becoming aware of your own digital technology habits and trying to improve them will set you up as a good role model to your child, inspiring them to follow in your footsteps. Limiting or forbidding screen use during meals, for example, is an effective way of being more attentive and available to your child. This will positively affect the quality of your interactions with your child.
Reducing screen time can be an easier pill to swallow if it is replaced with activities done as a family, with friends or even alone: playing outdoors, practising team or individual sports, planning nature hikes, encouraging creative leisure activities (music, drawing, etc.) will meet their need to socialize, have fun and escape.
To help the public adopt balanced screen habits, the Gouvernement du Québec intends to compile data that accurately reflect the situation of Québec youth with a view to eventually issuing its own recommendations.
The following recommendations from recognized Canadian organizations are specific to recreational screen time.
Children under 2 years of age
No screen time is recommended.
It is not recommended to let children under 2 years of age spend time in front of screens. Screen time can hinder the development of vision, language, motor skills, and human relations. It is also not advisable to leave screens on in the background, given that background noise interferes with interactions with children and reduces their ability to pay attention to a game or task at hand.
From an early age, toddlers learn best by interacting with the “real world,” such as manipulating toys and playing with others. As such, they derive no benefit from screens of any kind for any purpose.
Adults are role models to them. It is therefore important for adults to adopt healthy screen habits as early as the birth of their child so that children can emulate adults’ positive behaviours later on.
2- to 5-year-olds
The maximum recommended screen time is under one hour a day.
Even though children are captivated by the sounds, movement and colours produced on screens, they are generally too young to digest and understand everything they see. In addition, negative impacts on the development of language, vision, motor skills, and human relations have been reported. This is why it is better to gradually introduce screens. To help children in this age group make prudent use of them, it is important to supervise their use.
Here are a few tips:
- Choose high-quality content at appropriate times: prioritize age-appropriate, interactive, and educational programs.
- Watch with the child (be present and fully engaged in the content).
- Go over the information they view on the screen, help children put it into practice, talk about what they have viewed, and draw connections between the content and their environment and daily lives.
- Inform the child of their permitted screen time (such as one episode, one activity).
- Schedule a screen break after 30 minutes to prevent vision problems.
- Warn the child shortly before turning off the device to prevent arguments.
- For online communication apps such as FaceTime or Skype, make sure to stay with the child and facilitate the conversations by participating in them.
- Use devices in a common area rather than in the child’s bedroom, so that adults can control the content.
6- to 12-year-olds
As a general rule, no more than two hours per day is recommended for recreational activities. However, this depends on the content (social media, video games, chats, TV, etc.), the context (time of day, multitasking, etc.), and the young person’s individual traits (age, physical and mental health, analytical skills, critical thinking, etc.). Parental supervision must therefore be based on these criteria.
For younger children especially, the content should be educational and the devices should be used in common areas, where adults can control the content, rather than in children’s bedrooms.
Negative impacts on vision, sleep, learning abilities and lifestyle habits have been reported in 6- to 12-year-olds.
13- to 19-year-olds
Canadian organizations that had adopted a position on the issue no longer suggest a specific length of time for this age group, but recommend analyzing the situation in relation to the relevance of the content (school work, social media, video games, chats, TV, etc.), the context (time of day, multitasking, etc.), and the young person’s individual traits (age, physical and mental health, analytical skills, critical thinking, etc.).
Negative impacts on vision, sleep, learning ability, and weight have been reported in this age group. Other negative impacts on psychological health (body image anxiety, depression, conduct disorders or emotional disorders) have also been identified.
The PAUSE website offers information, tips, resources and a number of tools to improve digital technology habits, alone or as a family. Here are a few of the themes:
- Family agreements: Guide for connected families and Parent-teen contract on cell phone use
- Assessing your teen’s situation: When to worry about your teen’s screen use
There are many websites, apps, and devices that help people adopt a healthier lifestyle. Some are listed on the PAUSE website.
To receive care or services or to find a compatible professional, contact one of the following resources:
Gambling: Help and Referral
Gambling: Help and Referral is a telephone service for people seeking help for a problem with their gambling, Internet or gaming use, or for a loved one’s problem. It offers information, referral and counselling services. Gambling: Help and Referral is available 24/7. The services are bilingual, confidential, anonymous and free.
Last update: February 6, 2023