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Time to unplug

A new study from the University of Alberta is raising a vital question about screen time and children: how much are you willing to gamble on your child’s health?

The jury may still be out on exactly how damaging excessive screen time is for young children, but the study in question adds to a mounting body of evidence that gives us a glimpse into those harms.

The study found a whopping 42 per cent of three-year-olds spend more than an hour per day looking at screens, while 13 per cent of five-year-olds exceed two hours per day.

It also found children who had more than two hours of screen time per day were nearly six times more likely to have inattention problems and were seven times more likely to have ADHD-like symptoms.

In the words of Piush Mandhane, co-author of the study and a U of A pediatrics professor, those effects are “huge.”

“Our findings indicate that preschool may be a critical period for supporting parents and families on education about limiting screen-time and supporting physical activity,” the study concludes.

St. Albert is still fighting to get provincial funding for one major form of support: a Parent Link centre. These centres help support families with young children, providing parents and caregivers with resources for early childhood development.

The city has spent years pursuing Parent Link funding while consistently being overlooked, although local politicians are aiming to change that. St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud teamed up with city councillors in December to advocate for provincial funding, and during the recent provincial election, the city urged residents to question would-be MLAs about their support for Parent Link funding.

Most parents know if you give your three-year-old an iPad to play with, they’re going to be glued to the screen. That doesn’t change with age – after all, simple observation shows people of all ages, whether they're in their car, in the restaurant or walking down the street, transfixed on their cellphone screen. Technology is easy and all-too-convenient – it's far too tempting for busy parents to let their kids sit in front of screens for hours at a time, serving as a babysitter.

But this multi-year study of 3,455 preschoolers in four cities across Canada, including Edmonton, shows massive numbers of young children are spending an unhealthy amount of time in front of screens – and that could have damaging consequences.

It would be nice to hearken back to a time when children were forced to play without screens and use their imaginations to entertain themselves. But given the realities of our modern, technology-driven world, that isn’t going to happen. Instead, it’s more important than ever that we prioritize healthy activity for young children whose brains are still developing. While screen time is fine in moderation, parents have a responsibility to ensure their children develop into well-adjusted, socially-competent adults. That's something they cannot obtain through a screen.