How to Manage Screen Time with Online Learning

Dec 15, 2020 | Newmarket

As parents, the concern over how much time our children spend in front of a screen is not new. In fact, parent’s concern over their kids’ screen time has spiked to an all-time high during this pandemic. Why? Because kids are now in front of screens more often and for longer periods of time than ever before.

Two school aged children holding tablets in front of their faces.

Whether we were all ready for it or not, we shifted our lives online during this pandemic – work, school, recreational activities, socialization, etc. Our days are filled with video calls via Google Meets, Zoom, Skype, Facebook & Facetime. Our kids are less active, and it has so many of us wondering what impact this increase in screen time is really having on our kids.

The 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth identified that:

  • 79% of kids and teens were spending more leisure time on screens, and
  • 62% of kids and teens were being less physically active outdoors.

It was challenging enough balancing screen time pre-pandemic, but now with so many children enrolled in online learning, and many other programs being conducted online (art programs, music lessons, exercise/sports programs), it feels like our kids (and us parents too) are online all the time.


How much screen time is too much screen time?

Well, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) & the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recommend these daily screen limits:

  • Children under 2 years: No screen time
  • Children 2-4 years: 1 hour or less
  • Children 5-17: 2 hours or less of recreational screen time (gaming, watching tv, texting with friends, etc.)

Yes, you read those numbers correctly…given how much of our lives are now online these recommendations seem daunting, if not impossible to implement.


What counts as screen time?

Screen time includes all the time a person spends engaged in learning or recreational activities on a:

  • TV or Smart TV
  • Computer
  • Tablet
  • Smart phone
  • Smart watch
  • Gaming console


Why is too much screen time concerning?

Screen time has always been an important subject for parents and an area of serious study by health experts for years to understand the health impacts. Research has shown that screen time can have a serious negative impact on a child’s emotional, mental, and physical health.

Too much screen time has been linked to issues with:

  • Weight gain due to developing unhealthy eating habits and less physical activity
  • Social development
  • Sleeping
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-worth
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain

Kids that spend too much time in front of a screen are at a higher risk to become less:

  • Attentive
  • Alert
  • Creative
  • School ready
  • Able to cope in everyday life


What are the signs of too much screen time?

When kids spend too much time glued to a screen, they may appear sad, tired, lonely, withdrawn, stressed, tense, agitated, fearful, or nervous. They may also isolate themselves from family members or their friends, have emotional outbursts, become aggressive, have difficulty concentrating or even loose interest in their favourite activities or in school.


Not all screen time is the same

Yes, your child is now spending far more time in front of a screen, especially if they are doing online learning for school. But not all their screen time is considered equal, nor is it all bad for them. 

For example, your child playing Among Us or Minecraft on their tablet is not the same as participating in an online lesson with their teacher or in an online class discussion, or an online math tutoring session with an expert here at Mathnasium of Newmarket. Your child texting or video chatting with their friends on their smart phone is not the same as them participating in an online music lesson via a computer. Your child watching YouTube videos on how to build a motorized Lego car is not the same as them watching cartoons online or streaming a movie.


How do you balance & monitor screen time?

For healthy development and to thrive, kids need different types of experiences in their everyday life. These experiences need to occur both in real life (offline) and online. Managing their screen time is more than just reducing it. It is about helping it become more meaningful in today’s super connected, digital world.

To balance & monitor screen, especially in a time with increased usage and online learning, you need to get a better understanding of how your kids are spending their time online.  

The first step in doing this is to determine how much time they are spending on learning activities vs. recreational activities:

  • Schedule time over a 2-3 week period to more actively monitor when your kids go online, for how long and what they are doing online. If you are not sure what they are doing, ask. 
  • Chart it out into Learning and Recreational activities – yes go old school and write it all down on paper.
  • Share it with your kids and have an open & honest discussion about their screen time habits, and why it may be concerning or needs to change for the better.


Tips for balancing & managing screen time:

  • Set & implement screen time rules
    • Talk to you kids about their tech and screen usage,
    • Schedule tech-free time each day or on certain days of the week.
    • Create a visual calendar at home for everyone to see and access.
    • Gradually implement the screen time rules and limits to help make this change easier to adapt to. Just cutting out your kids’ tech time will likely be met with resistance, anger and even anxiety. All of this will cause stress and decrease the chances of these rules taking effect and your children benefiting from them.
  • Minimize screen time before bed – Turn off screens at least 1 to 1.5 hours before bed to improve sleep and develop healthy sleeping habits.
  • Set boundaries on where screens/tech are allowed
    • Cell phones don’t belong at the table or counter during meal time
    • If possible, keep tech out of your kids’ bedroom at night. They are distracting and will get in the way of their sleep.
  • Increase your ‘offline’ experiences together:
    • Play a board game or card game
    • Bake or cook
    • Eat together as a family at the table
    • Draw or get crafty
    • Read
    • Build with Lego
    • Get outside and get active - walk around your neighbourhood and ‘ooh & ahh’ at all the holiday lights & decorations, go sledding or build a snowman.
  • Watch for signs of too much screen time - Intervene when necessary and adjust your families screen time rules as needed.
  • Lead by example – We are our kids role models and play a critical role in their health and in their development of healthy behaviors. They learn from us and our actions, so lead by example and put away your own screens and tech.


We hope you’ve found this informative and helpful in better managing screen time!  If you have any questions about our online or in-centre math tutoring programs here at Mathnasium of Newmarket, we’d love to hear from you.