Creating healthy screen habits for kids

June 6, 2024

Tablets, phones, computers, and TVs play a major role in our lives, and deciding how much time you allow your child to spend using them can be a major point of stress. In this ever-present digital environment comes a vital question for any parent: how much screen time is healthy for my child?

The health impacts of screen time

Understanding the health impacts of excessive screen use on children can help you make an informed decision on screen limits.

“There have been relationships found between increased screen time and childhood obesity, depression, mental health concerns, as well as concerns about language development,” says Jenna Seguin, a clinical intake worker with our Employee Assistance Program. “There are also concerns about children engaging in content that is not age-appropriate and potentially trying to emulate what they see online.”

While these potential health impacts may sound alarming, Seguin reminds us that the studies aren’t conclusive and that there are many positives to screen use as well.

“There are many amazing apps and videos, such as yoga tutorials, that help get kids moving in cases where outdoor play is not an option. There can be educational benefits as well. Many parents can name specific shows or apps that have contributed to their children’s development of letter or number recognition skills or even help teach problem solving and critical thinking.

“The main takeaway here is that not all screen time is created equal. The goal is to learn to find a balance in not only how much screen time, but also in what kinds of screen time are appropriate for your child,” Seguin says.

Age also plays a role in how much time a child should be allowed to use a screen. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS), screen time for children under two is not recommended, unless it is a video call with a caring adult.

By the time a child is two years old, they start to comprehend on-screen content. However, while they’re capable of learning from educational screen time, CPS stresses that children learn best through face-to-face interaction and suggests reducing screen time to an hour or less per day until they are five.

What parents can do 

“The reality is that screen time is inevitable for almost all children, and it will continue to change and evolve rapidly,” Seguin says.

“There is no set of rules or perfect parental-controlled device that will give a simple answer. The focus needs to be on teaching our children to be mindful consumers of the screen time they use.” 

Seguin recommends reflecting on your own screen time and identifying any negative behaviours you may be modelling. Start by asking yourself questions such as: “Do your children see you scrolling on social media while you are supposed to be playing with them? Are you responding to messages and calls during mealtimes?” 

“Additionally, talking about your own choices when it comes to screen usage can be helpful in providing language to children and modelling decision-making processes,” Seguin says.

It’s important to acknowledge that parents need time to themselves and that is okay too. Allowing technology, especially with educational or interactive content, can be a helpful tool in balancing parental responsibilities and self-care.

Ultimately, replacing some screen time with a family activity can help reduce the overall time spent in front of a digital device. A walk outside in nature, playing a favourite sport, even indoor crafts or board games are all fun alternatives.

Technology can be a powerful tool that provides opportunities for education and connection. By setting clear guidelines and modelling good digital behaviours, parents can help develop healthier screen habits for their family.

Getting help

Seguin importantly reminds us that every situation is unique. If you have significant concerns about your child’s screen time or notice potentially negative impacts on their health or development, you should consult your family doctor or another trusted expert.

If you or your child is struggling, reach out for help. Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get counselling support. Begin the process here.

Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross®account.


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