How much time should a child spend in front of a screen? And what if that screen is an tablet?
The Canadian Pediatric Society says there should be no screen time for children under two, and a maximum of two hours for older kids. But these were recommendations from a time before devices like tablets became unavoidable.
As new devices are released almost continuously, the conversation about screen times for children is changing. Some doctors are now saying screen time isn't all that bad. In fact, it might even be good for children.
Dr. Joelene Huber is a pediatrician and medical journalist who says data often can't keep up with the technology.
Huber said the original idea of limiting screen time was to encourage children to stop watching television and engage in physical activity. With mobile devices, that's changed.
What has changed in relation to screen times?
Most of the guidelines have been based around TV, and first were made in the 90s," said Huber. "Today children are being born into this digital world. iPads are now in kindergarten classrooms, children are using software to learn about music composing in school, they're going on virtual reality field trips, and it's not so much families are sitting around one TV anymore."
So is it safe to let children look at screens?
"It's not so much that pediatricians are saying, this is OK. It's really more we need to look at these guidelines and think about updating them in a way that is realistic within today's world but is really safe and healthy for kids," she said.
"There's lots of good evidence that, under two and younger children, as their brains are developing and growing, we know that face-to-face interaction and experiential learning is what grows connections in our brains."
A child less than one spending two hours of screen time per day is more likely to develop a language issue."
We know it can impact kids' sleep, it can impact their attention — so too much of that is still not a good thing."
So how do we as a society encourage kids to watch but limit the time for screens?
"It's really about looking at the content and quality over the quantity," she said. "We still don't say, 'Go sit in front of a screen for hours and hours and that's fine.' But an hour of FaceTime with a grandparent and an hour researching for homework is not equal to two hours of TV. So we really, as parents, have to become the curator of screen time.
When I was growing up, my parents could just peek over and see I was watching Full House or Family Ties and that was fine. But now my five- and seven-year-old are on YouTube, and I need to constantly be looking at what is it they are watching."
We need to get back to the 1950s and 60s, where we all sat around the TV together. We need to watch the screens with our kids. See what they're doing, play video games with your kids. Know what they're doing."
How do you teach children about screen time?
"As a parent, I struggle with this as well, but we need to put our phones down. We're the best teacher for our kids," said Huber.
"There was an observational study that went to a restaurant that observed families. Many parents are in front of the screens at meal time. They talk less, they interact less, some even neglect their children or speak more harshly to their children without even realizing it."
Another thing to do is create screen-free zones or screen-free times."
So think more in terms of, have my kids had enough non-screen time? Rather than looking at how much screen time they've had, have they played outside?"
This interview has been condensed and edited.