Quebec looking at limiting screen time at schools

Researchers warn that too much time spent in front of screens threatens children's eyesight, sleep patterns, weight and language skills.

Children work on iPads.

QUEBEC — The Quebec government plans to limit screen time at daycares and elementary schools in an action plan it intends to deliver by the end of the year.

“For now, the discussions are oriented toward this,” junior health minister Lionel Carmant said Monday as he ended a consultation on youth health and the use of screens, which had begun just before the pandemic in February 2020.

Carmant said the restriction could extend to banning cellphones in elementary schools, but said no draconian measures are planned in high schools for now. “We have to separate elementary and high schools,” he said. “At the secondary level, we have to see with the education department how to ensure that the use (of screens) in class remains beneficial to our youth and their families.”

In February 2020, researchers meeting with Carmant warned of multiple dangers linked to excessive amounts of time spent by young people in front of screens. The dangers included problems with eyesight, sleep, weight and language skills.

They also cited the risks of addiction, anxiety and poor self-esteem and noted that screen time can modify brain function, producing dopamine and over-stimulating children who, once in a classroom, no longer know how to be satisfied.

The researchers compare the situation to tobacco use, which was considered perfectly acceptable in the 1960s.

Parents today are “helpless” and “confused,” the researchers say. They also urge schools to think about how much screen time they are authorizing for students.

The findings were released before pandemic lockdowns caused screen time to explode.

Léandre Lapointe, of the Fédération nationale des enseignants du Québec, said teachers need more information and resources to make proper use of technology. He said scientific data concerning the nefarious effects of screens haven’t reached schools.

“It feels like we’re 10 years behind on that issue.”

Asked by the minister to recommend standards to follow for each age group, participants in the consultation were unable to form a consensus. Several said the government’s action plan should be “realistic” and “malleable.”

For example, proposing “abstinence” would lead to youth refusing to listen, said Denis Leclerc of the Ordre des psychoéducateurs du Québec.

But they all agreed that screen time “borrows” time from other activities, such as family time, meal time and sleep.

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