The Smirnov family: (from left) Leonardo, 5, Dominik, 18 months, and mother Samantha, with their iPads.                                (Colleen Flanagan/                                THE NEWS)

The Smirnov family: (from left) Leonardo, 5, Dominik, 18 months, and mother Samantha, with their iPads. (Colleen Flanagan/ THE NEWS)

B.C. doctor weighs in on the kid ‘screen time’ debate

A Maple Ridge mother opens up about her children’s use of tablets, smartphones and television

In the Smirnov household, there are three iPads, five cell phones and three televisions.

Samantha, a mother of two from Maple Ridge, admits limiting screen time for her children is a real issue.

There is always an iPad charging and the television never turns off from the moment her children wake up to the moment they go to bed.

Ninety-nine per cent of the time there is a children’s television program on, as the Smirnovs do not watch any adult programming until their children are asleep. They do watch a lot of Netflix.

“We’ve probably watched Captain Underpants 10 times,” Samantha sighed.

Leonardo, 5, and Dominik, 18 months, use all of the family’s devices and Samantha estimates they get at least five hours of screen time a day.

“And that’s a day when we’ve done stuff. If we’re at home all day, it’s probably double that,” she said.

A lot of the time Leonardo, in particular, will be watching something on an iPad in addition to a program on the television.

Leonardo was diagnosed with autism.

“He is very high functioning. You would never know,” said Samantha.

But Leonardo didn’t talk until he was almost three. The Smirnovs used the iPad to teach their son how to speak and Samantha says his improvement was great.

“He is now at a six-year-old level in speech in less than two years,” Samantha said, crediting the iPad for his improvement.

The Smirnovs try to gear their children’s screen time to educational programming.

Canadian Paediatric Society recommendations, though are for less.

Dr. Ingrid Tyler, a Fraser Health medical health officer whose work is centred around the promotion of health and chronic disease prevention, is reminding parents that recommendations are that children over the age of six be limited to no more than two hours of screen time a day.

Those two to five years old should be limited to less than one hour of screen time a day, and children younger than two should be getting no screen time at all.

“The reasons for that is to ensure screen time does not interfere with other important activities. Mostly, those from my perspective, are sleep, physical activity and social connections,” said Tyler.

“We do know that 40 per cent of youth say they get less than eight hours of sleep a night. And we do know that less than 20 per cent of youth are getting the recommended amounts of physical activity a day,” Tyler added.

“For older kids, those over the age of six, we do know that increased screen time can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

Other research about screen time shows that excessive exposure is associated with cognitive and social delays. Children with higher levels of screen time are at an increased risk for emotional problems and poorer family functioning.

Screen time in youth may influence symptoms of depression and anxiety, and there is a higher risk of depression when screen time exceeds two hours a day.

Using electronic devices near bedtime is associated with inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness in children.

Tyler says parents should also role-model their own screen behaviour.

Tyler says there are ways to minimize screen time, including scheduling outdoor time every day so children get regular physical activity.

“Also, keep board games, books and puzzles around as an alternative,” said Tyler.

She also suggested that parents keep a media diary to help track their family’s screen time.

The Smirnovs are getting an XBox 1 for Leo, who is in Kindergarten, so he can fit in and play games with his friends at school.

Samantha thinks the guidelines are unrealistic.

“I am not saying five hours a day is appropriate,” but she said screens are everywhere, including at school, the doctor’s office and at the hospital.

Her solution so far has been to hide the devices or pretend she is charging them or even leaving them barely charged so they die after a certain amount of time.

“The biggest thing we do is we hide them all at night. Because if they are out, there is no chance of getting him to do anything that day,” she said of Leo. “He goes to it right away, first thing in the morning.”

Samantha welcomes any tips on how to change her family’s current screen use.

“The dream is to change, but I don’t think it’s possible in our social environment.”

Fraser Health is also promoting the Live 5-2-1-0 healthy living program, which includes eating five or more fruits or vegetables every day, no more than two hours of screen time a day, at least one hour a day of active play and zero sugary drinks.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abbotsford’s Skully White (left), who donated his kidney in December, has started a campaign to find other recipients and donors. The first candidate is retired police officer Gavin Quon. White owns and operates a hotdog stand, Lullys Food Experience, out of the Abbotsford Canadian Tire parking lot. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford hotdog-stand owner starts campaign to find kidney donors and recipients

Skully White donated his kidney to customer Tim Hiscock in December

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
18 school exposures in Abbotsford since Jan. 6

21 exposures since the the holiday break

Dallas Lajimodiere is wanted by the Abbotsford Police Department.
Man wanted by Abbotsford Police domestic violence unit

Dallas Lajimodiere has three arrest warrants, including for assault with a weapon

Russell Jonathon George Gurney was last seen in Chilliwack in mid-December. (RCMP photo)
RCMP ask for help to find missing Abbotsford man last seen in Chilliwack

Police and family are concerned for the well-being of Russell Jonathon George Gurney

Grade 6 students at Eugene Reimer Middle School have been participating in the Equity Backpack Project. (Submitted photo)
Equity Backpack Project in Abbotsford addresses inclusion and anti-racism

Grade 6 teacher Nerlap Sidhu says she wants students to develop ‘strong sense of self’

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Toronto-based director Michelle Latimer was recently scrutinized after years of claiming she was of Algonquin and Metis descent. (CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Haida activist calls for hefty fines, jail time against those who claim to be Indigenous

Filmmaker Tamara Bell proposing the Indigenous Identity Act – to dissuade ‘Indigenous identity theft’

(File)
Man allegedly bites Vancouver cop during arrest for outstanding warrant

The officer was treated in hospital for the bite wounds

(File Photo)
Interior Health says COVID positivity rates in Fernie area actually 10-12%

IH say the rates are not as high as previously claimed by the region’s top doctor

Black bear cubs Athena and Jordan look on from their enclosure at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, B.C., on July 8, 2015. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant won the hearts of animal lovers when he opted not to shoot the baby bears in July after their mother was destroyed for repeatedly raiding homes near Port Hardy, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Supreme Court quashes review of B.C. conservation officer who refused to euthanize bears

Bryce Casavant was dismissed from his job for choosing not to shoot the cubs in 2015

Francina Mettes and Thomas Schouten with the 200-page document they submitted in December of 2018. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Dutch man, 94, facing unwanted trip home can stay in B.C. with wife of 45 years

Immigration offices cuts red tape so couple of 45 years can stay together in Victoria area

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier, health officials to discuss next steps in COVID immunization plan

Nearly 31,000 doses of vaccine the province expected by Jan. 29 could be curtailed due to production issues

Most Read