British Columbia

Teach your children to think of screen time like food and regulate junk, says expert

Psychiatrist and author Shimi Kang shares tips from her new parenting book on how to help kids create healthy habits when using technology.

Psychiatrist and author Shimi Kang shares tips from new book about creating healthy digital habits

Psychiatrist Shimi Kang suggests parents focus less on how much time children are spending in front of a screen and more on what they are actually doing while they are there. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

Like sugar, it can be hard to regulate your child's daily technology intake and a B.C.-based psychiatrist has written a new book to help parents guide their kids toward making healthy choices.

Shimi Kang, author of The Tech Solution: Creating Healthy Habits for Kids Growing Up in a Digital World, suggests parents focus less on how much time children are spending in front of a screen and more on what they are actually doing while they are there.

Kang compares this approach to teaching children about healthy food habits and the allowance of the occasional junk food snack.

"How we consume technology and its impact on our brain and body is very similar to how we consume food ... we have to understand what is healthy for us, what nurtures us," said Kang Monday on The Early Edition.

A mother of three, Kang said the pandemic is a good time for parents to model healthy technology habits to children because many families are cooped up together and using tech for entertainment but also to connect with loved ones, colleagues and educators.

Kang said parents working from home can take the opportunity to showcase good habits.

Kang says even though some children may have the upper hand when it comes to understanding technology, it is up to parents to set boundaries and model good digital behaviour. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

These, she said, can include standing up from the computer to stretch every 20 minutes, using video conferencing on work calls to show the importance of face-to-face communication, and blocking certain accounts or web sites that pose an unhealthy distraction.

Kang also said when taking a "junk tech" break, such as to watch a Netflix show or scroll social media, it is helpful for parents to announce they are doing so to help children identify early what is a technology treat.

"We have to be repetitive [and] start young just like we teach children about food and diet," said Kang, adding "a little treat here and there isn't going to kill you."

A rule of thumb to keep in mind, according to Kang, is that when people are using technology to care, connect and/or create, then it is a healthy relationship.

And just because your kids may know more about the latest technology than you, Kang says that is not an excuse for parents to avoid being the authoritative figure when it comes to digital behaviour.

"We can say things like I understand you grew up with this and you technically know more about it, but I have more life experience and I do know, just like with junk food, the long-term consequences."

The Canadian Paediatric Society, citing 2018 research from digital and media literacy organization MediaSmarts, said parents reported 36 per cent of children aged 10-13 spent at least three hours daily using digital devices for non-schoolwork related reasons.

To hear the complete interview with Shimi Kang on The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition, The Canadian Press