Health experts doled out plenty of parenting advice in 2017, including new national guidelines on screen time, sedentary behaviour and sleep to help Canadian parents understand just what’s healthy for their children and what isn’t. Guides can be an important asset for any parent, but they can also feel like another list of to-dos when they bump up against real-world demands, such as putting dinner on the table at the 6 o’clock rush. The Globe and Mail’s Dave McGinn asked five experts for their most essential tip to put parents on the right path for the year ahead – and how they make them work in their own homes.
Use sedentary time in a positive way
Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research (HALO) at Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Father of four kids between the ages of 18 and 26.
“When our oldest child was young was when they came out with the Gameboy,” Dr. Tremblay says. “We didn’t buy them for the kids, but we knew that when they went over to friends’ houses for birthdays or sleepovers that that’s all they did. And that’s okay. Kept to a special event, these things that we know are unhealthy are okay. We just need to keep them in that context.”
Sedentary time has often been presented to parents as an unconditional evil. But there is such a thing as good sedentary time, says Dr. Tremblay, who co-authored new guidelines developed by HALO, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, the Public Health Agency of Canada, ParticipAction and others released in November.
“Certainly in the early years, [children] require sedentary time,” he says. “Very active growth is going on and that consumes energy and requires time to do its thing, whether that’s laying down bone or muscle or whatever.”
But try not to rely on screens: Too much of that can cause a range of issues for children ages 4 and under, including “attentional issues, language development, problem-solving skills, executive functions and problems getting to sleep,” Dr. Tremblay says.
Instead, read a story, make one up, or do a puzzle or board game, he suggests. “Something that is in three dimensions and ideally involves voice communication.”
And remember, children 4 and under shouldn’t be sedentary for more than 30 minutes at a time. So read a book and then go play, Dr. Tremblay says.
Plan screen time the same way that you plan healthy, balanced meals
Dr. Michelle Ponti, a London, Ont.-based pediatrician who chaired the digital-health task force that researched and wrote the Canadian Paediatric Society’s new position statement on screen time for children. Mother of three, ages 7, 15 and 16.
There are no screens allowed in bedrooms and no screens allowed at the dinner table at Dr. Ponti’s house, although sometimes one of her three daughters likes to do her homework at the dinner table.
In a position statement released earlier this year that Dr. Ponti was at the centre…