Child examines something in wetland in lifejacket

Pick green time over screen time

Screens are everywhere. Cell phones, Netflix, and video games can be distractions that keep us inside. It’s easy to spend hours chilling in front of your phone or TV.

These are hours we could be spending being physically active in the outdoors. Excessive screen time has negative impacts on our health, and this is especially concerning when it comes to children. Outdoor physical activity is crucial for healthy development.

The health effects

Excessive screen time is an emerging health issue, and the long term health effects aren’t yet clear. After all, the first iPhone came out just 12 years ago!

Close up on hands using phone

According to the Ontario Student Health survey, youth in grades 7 to 12 are spending 7 hours a day on screens. This screen time is usually indoors and sedentary.

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines say that, for optimal health, children and youth aged 5-17 should engage in:

  • high levels of physical activity
  • reduced levels of sedentary behavior
  • sufficient sleep each day.

Excessive screen time cuts into all of these.

Children running on trail towards camera

Many researchers agree that physical activity is important for child development. Physical activity improves heart and brain health, creates healthy bones and muscles, and maintains a healthy body weight.

Physical activity can also improve cognitive functions such as behaviour regulation, attention and planning, and mental health. Physical activity in children helps minimize depressive symptoms and feelings of anxiety, as well as lowering stress and increasing resilience.

Additionally, excessive screen time is closely tied to high use of social media and video games, which are connected to the development of mental health issues.

Excessive screen time is linked with development of unhealthy habits, such as poor eating, lower fitness levels, and less sleep. Sleep is important for supporting healthy mental and physical development. Outdoor physical activity has even been connected to lower rates of myopia, or nearsightedness.

Screen time recommendations

The Canadian Paediatric Society has released guidelines for screen time for youth. For children under 2 years old, no screen time is recommended. For 2-4 years old, a one-hour daily maximum is suggested, and for 5-17 years olds, a two-hour daily maximum is best.

Young child smiles at camera

For all of these recommendations, even less screen time is considered better for their health.

However, more than half (55%) of children aged 5-17 are exceeding this recommended amount of screen time, with the same going for 76% of preschoolers.

What you can do

When we live our lives connected to our devices, we miss out on other meaningful connections. Connections with our loved ones, and connections with the environment around us.

Family on beach looks out at water

Outdoor play gives your children a much-needed break from screens, while improving their health and fostering an appreciation of nature.

Cover of Screen Time vs Green Time report

The best way to limit screen time for your children is to limit your own use. Set limits for when and where devices can be used.

Encourage your children to connect with nature by creating opportunities for them. Lead by example by scheduling nature walks in the evenings, or have them attend a nature education program to learn about their environments.

Are we saying all screens are bad?

No! We’re saying that moderation is key. Try to limit your screen time, especially when you’re outside.

Camper taking a photo of a mossy stump on a smart phone.

If you are going to use screens, try to use them in a way which engages your children in nature. Stop to take photos of the beautiful lookouts and critters you see in nature along the way.

Or use a nature education app like iNaturalist. It’s a free app that lets you connect, share, and discover the amazing diversity of parks with a few clicks.

Provincial parks are places to spend quality time together in nature

Next time you visit Ontario Parks, consider limiting your screen time, and focus on enjoying some quality green time with your loved ones.

To learn more read, Nature Canada’s report on The Health Impacts of too much Screen TimeFor tips for parents, check out Nature Canada’s Tips for Parents to reduce screen time and get into nature.