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Digital Dopamine: Half of Canadian parents concerned their child spends too much time on their devices

Whether children are reluctantly peeling themselves away from a summer of screen time, gaming and online socializing, or doubling down on the hours spent with their tablets in the name of homework, the back-to-school season brings an examination of how much is too much – and the extent to which parents are concerned by the amount of time their young children spend with these devices.

A new public opinion survey from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute, conducted in partnership with TVO, finds many parents worried about the addictive potential of digital devices as well as their contribution to physical inactivity, among other negative developmental outcomes.

While most parents (89%) acknowledge that such devices can be a valuable educational tool for young children, nearly half (46%) remain concerned that their child is spending too much time in front of a screen.

The vast majority (87%) of Canadian parents with children between the ages of two and 12 say their child spends at least one hour per day using their device(s), with most devoting significantly more time than that.

Across a number of areas ranging from physical fitness and mental health to sociability and academic performance, parents’ evaluations of their child’s well-being appear negatively correlated with their total screen time. This is particularly true of reading ability, as seven-in-ten (68%) parents of children who spend less than one hour per day in front of a screen say their child does well in this area, compared to fewer than half (44%) of parents whose children spend four hours or more.

More Key Findings:

  • One-in-five (22%) Canadian parents say their child spends more than four hours per day using their device(s), rising to at least four-in-ten among parents of children with a physical (43%), learning (39%) or developmental disability (44%)
  • Children’s screen activities appear to vary significantly based on gender and age. Boys are nearly twice as likely as girls (35% vs. 20%) to frequently use their devices for non-educational gaming, driven in large part by pre-teen boys (49%). On the other hand, pre-teen girls stand out as the group of children most likely to rely on their devices for social interaction and communication
  • While nearly two-in-three (64%) parents of children with a physical disability believe screen time is a “good” or “excellent” way for kids to learn, just three-in-ten (31%) parents of children without disabilities say the same
  • Parents utilize a number of approaches to manage their children’s screen time and usage, including monitoring what their child is watching (63% say they regularly do this) and talking to their child about being careful online (60%, including 75% among parents of pre-teens)

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