Does adult screen time impact our children?

It seems there is a new article or research every week about the adverse effects of screen time on children. Too much screen time has been linked to child obesity, attachment issues, lack of sleep, delay in language acquisition and sensory overload to name just a few.


While children are watching TV, using a computer, gaming device, tablet or smartphone, they are missing out on opportunities. Opportunities to make connections with the world around them including forging real relationships with peers and adults in their life; opportunities to problem solve, to be creative, to feel, touch, smell and make sense of their environment. 

Awareness campaigns around screen time are being promoted by public health units, child development experts and children’s advocacy groups and others who have an interest in children’s well-being. Guidelines and recommendations for children of all ages are plentiful and stringent with no screen time at all before the age of two and no more than one or two hours a day for older children.

But what about our screen time as adults? Is it influencing our children? Is our screen time affecting our relationship with our children? What is it teaching our children?

technology 2We have all seen it happen: A young child, sometimes even a baby, at the park, the restaurant, or a waiting room trying to get their parents attention without success, as the latter is engrossed in their smart phone or tablet. Could it be that as adults, we also need to take a look at our screen time. Sometimes despite our best intentions, our actions may be giving mixed messages to our children.

It goes without saying that for parents, the digital age has brought many benefits:

  • Children can connect with their far away relatives.
  • A weird looking rash can be googled in an instant.
  • Parents can connect with child development experts or other families on parenting blogs.
  • Instant access to the latest child development research or trends

Service providers working with families and children also benefit from this new digital era. Electronic communications and social media have provided a very effective platform to distribute information to families. Blogs, Twitter, chat rooms, list serve, online training, live streaming, etc., makes it that  much easier to reach many more families and this, twenty four hours a day!

Yet, there can be negative effects if our own screen time infiltrates the time we spend with our children. Our relationships and our role in the development of children can be seriously altered. From the day they are born, babies look to the adults in their life to respond to their every need. Through every interaction with adults whether it be language, touch, eye contact, children make meaning of the world.

But how will babies learn social cues if there is less interaction? How many conversations are missed when the TV is on in the background and captures mom’s attention? What success or milestones did dad not see while his child was playing and he was responding to a text?

The Canadian pediatric Society and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) offers the following recommendations:

Children under 2:  Screen time is not recommended.

Children between the ages of 2 and 4: Limit screen time to 1 hour a day. Less is better.

Older Children and Youth (5 to 17):  Limit recreational screen time to no more than 2 hours/day

A surefire way to ensure screen time is reduced and opportunities for attachment between child and parent would be for all adult screen time to be included in the child’s “time” if this is done in the presence of the children. Imagine the potential and opportunities for connections and strong attachment if that were the case…

We owe it to children to support all families in ensuring that adult screen time does not become a distraction from our children and a barrier to meaningful interaction.

Kathy Knight Robinson, RECE
Andrew Fleck Children’s Services


Links and Resources:

Technology in early childhood education

Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world

Articles on Technology, Attachement and Resiliency by Dr. Cheng