Our screen time has soared in the pandemic, including among young children. Whether at home, at school, or even during moments of relaxation, it’s hard to escape the omnipresent influence of screens such as televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones.

In this article, we explain the damage these screens can have on your children’s development, as well as recommendations for healthy, balanced use.

What effects can screens have on children’s development?

The impact of screens on children’s development is a growing concern among parents, teachers and health professionals. Their excessive use can have harmful consequences on children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development1.

Cognitive development:

  • Delay in language acquisition, as screen time can reduce the amount of time devoted to verbal interaction.
  • Difficulty paying attention, poor memory and problem-solving. This can affect their performance at school.
  • Reduced reading skills, as they are less inclined to read as part of their daily routine.

Physical development:

  • Overweight and obesity due to a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Growth problems, often linked to sleep disturbances caused by screens.
  • Vision problems, which can be affected by the blue light emitted by screens.

Social and emotional development:

  • Reduced interaction time with other people, which is spent in front of screens. This can have an impact on communication development, conflict resolution and emotional regulation.
  • Risk of cyberbullying and exposure to various forms of cybercrime, which can have serious repercussions on their emotional well-being.
  • Screen addiction, which can have negative consequences for children’s mental health.
screen time for children

Health professionals and the Quebec government2 recommend limiting children’s screen time, and balancing its use with other activities. These recommendations vary according to the child’s age:

  • Toddlers aged 0 to 2: no screens.
    Children in this age group should avoid screens except in specific situations, such as video calls with relatives. Direct interaction with adults and toys is essential for their development.
  • Children aged 2 to 5: less than 1 hour a day.
    Limit exposure to screens to one hour a day, and give priority to high-quality, educational, age-appropriate content. Encourage them to take part in physical activities, play outdoors and read books.
  • Children aged 6 and over: less than 2 hours.
    We recommend setting limits based on their individual needs and activities. Make sure they have enough time for sleep, education and face-to-face social interaction. Pay particular attention to their use of social media!

What rules should you set to limit screen use?

Setting rules to limit screen use can be a challenge, but it’s essential for your children’s well-being. Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Set dedicated times, taking into account your child’s needs. For example, limit screen use at mealtimes and before bedtime.
  • Create screen-free spaces. Set up areas of the house where screens are not allowed, such as the dining room and bedroom. This encourages face-to-face interaction and quality sleep.
  • Set an example by limiting your own use of screens. Children are more likely to follow the rules when their parents respect them too.
  • Encourage alternative activities such as reading, board games, sports, art and music to occupy the time your children spend in front of screens.
  • Stay informed about the content your children consume online. Talk to them about the potential risks of the Internet, cyberbullying and privacy.
  • Be flexible! It may be necessary to adjust the rules to suit their individual needs.

Consult a pediatric clinic

By respecting the recommendations on screen use and setting clear rules at home, you’ll be helping to safeguard your children’s health and well-being. However, every child is unique, and some may have special needs.

If you have any concerns about your child’s development, or if you notice any signs of developmental delay, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional in the Greater Montreal area.

  • Specialized pediatric clinics: The ELNA network offers three specialized pediatric clinics, covering more than 30 pediatric specialties (ELNA Pediatrics – Decarie, ELNA Pediatrics – Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Children’s clinic – Pointe-Claire).

  • Pediatric services: Some of our pediatricians offer their services at our RAMQ and private clinics. See the clinics.

  • Family medicine: If you don’t have a pediatrician, please refer to a family doctor for a requisition. He or she will also be able to advise you on the use of screens. See our clinics.

  • Private family medicine: If you don’t have a RAMQ family doctor or would like to get an appointment quickly, our private clinics welcome new patients and offer consultations with almost no waiting time. See our clinics.

  • Our healthcare professionals can help you assess your child’s development and set up an appropriate intervention plan. Don’t hesitate to ask us for advice!

    Contact a pediatrician

    ELNA Pediatrics

    Screens have become an integral part of our lives. At ELNA Pediatrics, we understand the importance of your children’s health and well-being, which is why we offer solutions and professional medical care.

    1: Canadian Paediatric Society
    2: Quebec.ca – Balanced screen use for children and teens