Photo by Karin Pedersen

Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, our family has been watching a lot more television while we do our part in social distancing and staying at home.  For children ages 3-5, the recommended screen time is 1 hour or less per day by the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  I can definitely say that our daughter Madi is watching more than 1 hour per day a few times a week.  

Given that I will be breaking the screen time recommendations for the unforeseen future, I felt compelled to learn which programs and if watching together would be beneficial.

Studies have suggested that well-designed television programs, such as Sesame Street, can improve cognitive, literacy, and social outcomes for children 3 to 5 years of age.

Other studies suggest that the skills required for school success such as impulse control, emotional regulation, perseverance and creativity are best taught through unstructured and social (not digital) play as well as responsive parent-child interactions.

It is going to be challenging to limit screen time given social distancing and school being closed. When Madi is watching TV I try to follow the recommendations of the CPS and AAP by “co-view with your children, help them understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.”

As a family, we have set the following ground rules for screen time:

  • Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well).
  • Avoid any violent content. 
  • Screen time ends at least an hour before bed.

This post was co-authored by Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc and Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP .