Screens & Health

Did You Know?

Physical Health

  • 1 in 4 Canadian children are overweight or obese.
  • 50% of youth (5-17), are not active enough for optimal growth and development.90% youth fail to meet the daily requirements of Canada’s Physical Activity Guide. Canadian kids 8-18 spend an average of 42 hours a week with media, versus 8.75 hours exercising.
  • A preschooler's risk of obesity jumps 6% for every hour of TV watched per day, 31% if the TV is in their bedroom.
  • The average child sees 40,000 commercials annually on broadcast TV alone. 80% of TV commercials are for fast food, candy, cereal, and toys. Kids see more than 250,000 commercials aimed at their appearance by age 17.

Sexual Behaviour

  • Between 1998 and 2005, the number of sexual scenes on TV nearly doubled. Programs with sexual content average 4.4 scenes per hour.
  • On average, music videos contain 93 sexual situations per hour, including 11 hard-core scenes depicting behaviour like intercourse and oral sex.
  • 60% of female video game characters are presented in a sexualized fashion.
  • 72% of teens think watching TV with a lot of sexual content influences their peers' behaviour somewhat or a lot.
  • The biggest users of online pornography are 12- to 17- year-old boys. 1/3 of 13 years olds in Alberta say they have watched pornography on the internet “too many times to count” according to a University of Alberta study.

Violence and Aggression

  • Nearly 2 out of 3 TV programs contain violence, averaging 6 violent acts per hour
  • There are more than twice as many violent incidents in children's programming than in other types of programming. The average child who watches 2 hours of cartoons per day may see more than 10,000 violent acts a year.
  • . By the time kids enter middle school, they will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 more acts of violence on broadcast TV alone.
  • Teens who watch more than 1 hour of TV per day are 4 times more likely than other teens to commit aggressive acts in adulthood.

Addictive Behaviours

  • One third of kids will ultimately die from a smoking-related disease. Half of all kids who start smoking do so because they saw it in movies. Movie smoking is even more effective than cigarette ads with teens.
  • The more alcohol ads kids see, the more they drink. The earlier kids start drinking and drugging, the higher the incidence of alcoholism. 47% of kids under 14 who start drinking become alcoholics within 10 years.
  • Researchers have determined that playing video games triggers and doubles the amount of dopamine in the brain, roughly equivalent to a dose of speed. Middle school students who play video games during the week do worse in school.

Social and Emotional Health

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics lists the following as media-message “side effects”: poor school performance, hitting or pushing other kids often, aggressively talking back to adults, frequent nightmares.
  • One study showed that teens who “text” a lot are sadder and less confident.
  • Cheating is on the rise. 37% of teens say they believe that “too many” of their peers cheat using the Internet.
  • Race and gender stereotypes and inequalities remain on screen. Of primetime TV characters, only 3% are Asian, 4% Latino, and 16% African American, versus 74% Caucasian. Of characters in top-selling video games, 64% are male, 17% are female, and 19% are aliens.
  • 29% students said their parent or guardian would disapprove if they knew what they were doing on the Internet, and 64% of online teens say that most teens do things online that they wouldn't want their parents to know about.

What Children Need

Most parents want their children to grow up to be happy, , and caring individuals. We want them to be emotionally stable, socially well adjusted, capable, and contributing members of society. We want them to act morally and have good values. We want them to have friends, do well in school, and eventually land a good job.

A child’s mind and body develops according to how it is used, and studies clearly show that Canadian children are spending a large part of each day with screen media. There is evidence that too much ‘screen time’ affects physical and mental health and influences what children do and how they feel.

Why Screen Time Matters

Physical Health

For the first time in two centuries, the current generation of children… may have shorter life expectancies than their parents… that left unchecked, could shorten life spans by as much as five years.

- New England Journal of Medicine (2005) obese kid

Children need enough nutrition, exercise, and sleep for healthy development! Too much ‘screen time’ interferes with these basic needs. Studies show that too much ‘screen time’ is linked to obesity, declining levels of fitness and nutrition, and sleeping problems.

  • Child Obesity: 1 in 4 of Canadian kids is at risk for becoming Obese. Obesity puts children at risk for Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, and cancer, is predicted to reduce life expectancy by five years.
  • Nutrition: Kids eat a lot of food while watching screens, especially high fat foods and sugary drinks. Studies show the more they watch, the more they eat, and that food advertising influences what children eat and drink.
  • Fitness: 50% of Canadian youth (5-17), are not active enough for optimal growth and development, and 90% fail to meet the daily requirements of Canada’s Physical Activity Guide. Canadian kids spend four to six hours daily in front of a TV or computer. A lack of fitness is clearly linked to excessive ‘screen time’.
  • Sleep: Children are getting at least an hour less sleep each night than they need. Screen use before bed, and TV’s, computers, and cell phones in bedrooms, all contribute to kids not getting enough rest their minds and bodies need. Sleep deprivation doubles the risk of obesity.

Brain Development

A Child’s brain develops according to how it is used, or not used! Neuroscientists have found some basic differences in how many young people think, compared to adults. With an average 8.5 hours of daily screen stimulation, the brain becomes wired to multitask and process visual information rapidly. The mind comes to expect excitement and instant gratification. Young people are spending less time interacting with others face to face, and doing slower, more demanding activities, such as reading or playing board games. Not surprisingly, the areas of the brain responsible for social skills and deep thinking are not as well developed.


  • Information Processing: The ‘Net’ generation is very good at sifting through large amounts of information. They rapidly decide what is important and what is not. They can nimbly switch between activities.
  • Inattention: Young people appear to be more easily distracted, and have more difficulty sticking with an activity than previous generations. They seem to be uncomfortable focusing on a single task, and unwilling to take the time to reflect, contemplate, and think thoughtfully.
  • Social Skills: More and more, young people seem to have difficulty with non-verbal thinking - reading facial expressions and body language. Misreading non-verbal cues can cause problems in friendships, dating, or any other social situation.
  • Brain Strain: Hours of multi-tasking and ‘power browsing’ can stress the brain. Over time, it can dull thinking, lead to depression, and change the wiring in the areas of the brain that control thoughts and mood.

Violence & Aggression


Thousands of studies show a link between screen violence - TV, movies, music videos, and video games - and aggressive behavior in the real world, insensitivity toward violence, and fear in children.

  • Aggression: Viewing screen violence can reduce inhibitions and lead to aggressive behavior. The more aggressive behavior kids see, the more it seems an acceptable way to settle conflicts.
  • Desensitization: Screen violence is often glamorized or treated as funny. Rarely are issues of human pain and loss explored. Repeated exposure to TV violence makes children less sensitive toward its effects on victims and the human suffering it causes.
  • Fear & Anxiety: Shows with scary images, loud noises, and graphic violence, can cause kids to have nightmares, anxiety, and fears of being alone. Some children may withdraw from friends and miss school. Younger kids are the most vulnerable. They can come to view the world as a mean and scary place.

Sexual Behaviour

scared kid

Sex is everywhere on the screen – music videos, movies, sitcoms, reality shows, beer ads, online porn, and video games. Children learn about sex from the media. Sexual images and attitudes are glamorized. Dangerous consequences of sexual activity or pornography are rarely explained. Most shows contain lots of sexual content, but usually nothing about contraception or safer sex.

  • Sexual Activity: Studies show that watching sex on TV increases the chances a teen will have sex, and may cause teens to start having sex at younger ages. Even watching shows with characters talking about sex increases the risk of sexual initiation.
  • Sex Education: Children report that most of what they know about sex, dating, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) comes from what they see and hear in the media. In 2005, 68% of TV shows had steamy sexual content, but only 15% of those programs discussed risk and responsibility. Studies link sexual content on TV to teen pregnancy, increasing incidences of STDs, and sexualized violence.
  • Attitudes: Sadly, sexually explicit and degrading messages are everywhere today. What children see on the screen can shape their attitudes about sex. Dressing sexy, talking about sex and casual hook-ups come to be considered normal and acceptable. Social networking sites may reinforce these attitudes toward sexuality.

Addictive Behaviour

Children often see scenes of drinking, smoking, and drug use on television and in movies. Advertising, product placement, and sponsorship of sporting events glamorize drinking and smoking, and develops brand awareness with young kids. Many video games and multiplayer internet games are designed to be highly addictive.

cross eyed

  • Drinking & Drugs: Alcohol advertising affects underage drinking behaviour. The more alcohol ads kids see, the more they drink. The earlier kids start drinking and drugging, the higher the incidence of alcoholism. Kids are using drugs at younger and younger ages.
  • Smoking: Kids see people smoking on TV shows and movies, and studies clearly show it influences their behaviour. Kids who watch more TV start smoking at an earlier age. Half of all kids who start smoking do so because they saw it in movies. Movie smoking is even more effective than cigarette ads with teens. One in 3 kids will ultimately die from a smoking-related disease.
  • Gaming: Scientists have found that playing video games triggers and doubles the amount of dopamine in the brain, about the same as a dose of speed. Computer and Internet gaming addictions can harm kids’ social skills; cause them to miss meals and sleep; and interfere with family relationships and friendships, homework and school attendance.

Social & Emotional Health

girl with megaphone

Popular culture - as seen on the screen – shapes values, attitudes, and beliefs. It influences how our children feel and act. Children spend more time absorbing media messages than they do absorbing ours. These values, attitudes, and beliefs often conflict with what parents are trying to teach their kids. They can also create unrealistic expectations for children, and undermine self-esteem and emotional health.

  • Disrespect: Reality TV shows glamorize people who lie and betray to win a prize. Email, IMs, and text messaging have become new ways to cheat and bully. Gender and racial stereotypes still exist in video games, movies, TV shows, and music, sending kids unhealthy messages about what is normal social behaviour.
  • Body Image: The early teen years are so important for the development of healthy self-esteem. Thin women are everywhere on the screen. Constantly watching ‘perfect’ bodies can feed teenage insecurities over attractiveness and weight. Studies show that idealized body image contributes to eating disorders, steroid use, and plastic surgery.
  • Consumerism: In the ‘age of want’, there is a danger that a child’s identity is shaped by what they own. Screen media are businesses that thrive on materialism. Not having the latest iPod or gaming system can leave children vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

What Can Be Done

little goalie

Limit Screen Time

  • The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. Children under two years old should watch as little as possible.
  • Keep TV, Internet-connected computers, and gaming equipment out of your child’s bedroom. Locate screen media in a central location where use can be supervised.
  • Create house rules to turn off the screens at mealtimes, while doing homework, and an hour before going to bed. Make sure your child gets enough sleep each night.

Supervise Content

supervise content

  • Know what your child is watching, playing, or doing on-line.
  • Check the content and ratings of TV shows, video games, music and movies.
  • Use parental controls for TV and filtering software for computers.
  • Limit the amount of violent content your children are exposed to and monitor their behaviour after watching scary or violent shows or playing video games.
  • Make sure babysitters or other caregivers are aware of your ‘house rules’ for screen time and what they are allowed to watch.

Become 'Screen Smart' Together

father watching tv with kids

  • Watch TV shows, play video games, and surf the ‘net with your children. Talk about what they are watching and help kids to question the messages and values communicated by the screen content. Make it a habit to inquire about what shows or movies they watched, or where go on-line.
  • Talk to your children about sexual and violent content, stereotyping, and body image in the media, and strategies advertisers use to market to children, and the unrealistic messages contained in many Ads.
  • Be a good role model. Limit your own screen time and monitor what you watch when children are nearby. Record adult shows and watch them when the kids are not around.
  • Encourage the eating of healthy snacks when watching show or a movie.
  • Balance ‘screen time’ with ‘real time’. Choose activities that encourage healthy brain growth - talking, reading, arts and crafts, playing board games, singing, and listening to music, and those that involve physical activity – such as sports, playing outside, or going for a family walk
  • Read with your child. Have books in the home. Visit the library often.

Healthy Activities, Information, and Support in our Community:

  • Information on Sports and Recreation call 837-9351, or visit
  • Children’s Services Directory
  • Okanagan Regional Library - Children’s Programs (837-5095)
  • Child Care Society-Toy Lending Library (837-6669)
  • StrongStart BC - Early Learning Centre (837-1273)
  • “Mother Goose” (837-6669)
  • “Family Night Out” (837-6669)
  • Community Connections Youth Programs (837-2920)
  • Speech and Language Clinic (837-4285)
  • ECD Consultant-Community Connections (837-2920)
  • For more info on ‘screens’ and health issues, talk to your doctor, phone Revelstoke Health Unit (814-2244)
  • Download Brochure “Screens & Health”
  • For more information on healthy eating Revelstoke Health Unit (814-2244)



iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, by Gary Small, M.D. and Gigi Vorgan.

The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind, by Richard Restak




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