Screen Time and Obstacles to Physical Activity: Healthy Families BC

The Raising Children Network Limited “Screen Time and Obstacles to Physical Activity” article posted in the Articles & Resources section of the HealthyFamiliesBC website responds to the health challenges posed by children’s extended time sitting and screen-watching (TV, computer, tablet, smartphone, and video/hand-held computer games).

“Screen time keeps children seated for long stretches of time, which means it stops them from getting the physical activity they need…Children form screen time habits from an early age” from learned behavior watching and listening to others. Screen time, an average of over seven hours a day for Canadian children, is one of the biggest obstacles to physical activity for children.

The Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend no more than 2 hours of screentime a day for youth and even less for younger children. Only 5 percent of children are achieving the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Children and Youth recommended minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity daily physical activity.

HealthyFamiliesBC has partnered with ParticipACTION in the Make Room for Play Campaign to offer resource materials that include ideas for active playground games and a mobile app Play!ground that shows where families can find a range of fun. A ParticipACTION factsheet points out, “Science has shown that when children increase their daily physical activity, their overall quality of life goes up. They sleep better, have improved academic performance, increased self-esteem and they decrease their chances of developing many diseases such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. In short, physically active kids are generally healthier and happier.”

As part of the ParticipACTION and HealthyFamiliesBC partnership, BC residents can order free copies of the Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines at The guidelines are designed to “apply to all apparently healthy individuals, irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status”.

The article makes several recommendations that are relevant to pre-school children:

  • Record favourite tv shows to watch at a time that doesn’t compete with active play time.
  • Limit background TV and screen activity during children’s play times. “If the TV is on in the background, it can still interfere with socializing and concentration.”
  • Where possible, let your child walk instead of being in a stroller or infant seat.
Screen Time and Obstacles to Play - Free Stock Image from
Screen Time and Obstacles to Play - Free Stock Image from

If you don’t have a lot of play space at your home, or worry about your neighbourhood’s safety, or have schools and shops that aren’t within a comfortable walking distance of home, the article suggests that you might be able to:

  • take your child to a park, sports field, beach, friend or family member’s house, library, school, community centre or other place with space to play
  • talk to other neighbours with other young children about sharing supervision on the street or in a nearby park
  • park or get off the bus a little further away than you need to, and walk the rest of the way together with your child.

To achieve health benefits, physical activity should be performed at a moderate or vigorous level. Moderate activities make your child gently “huff and puff” and include brisk walking, dancing, bike riding, swimming laps of a pool, jogging, and helping with inside and outside chores. Vigorous activities increase your child’s heart rate and make the child “huff and puff” even more. These activities include lots of running, such as basketball, tag, jogging, soccer, hockey, swimming and football.

The Raising Children Network Limited article titled “Keeping Children and Teenagers Active”on the HealthyFamiliesBC website offers parents practical points for planning their child’s routines:

  • Where can your child be active?
  • How much space do you have at home, in the backyard, at the local park, walking track or local pool?
  • What local options are low cost or free to use?
  • Who are your child’s “active” friends? Who can you visit to help your child be active?
  • Who else can help your child be active? Are there any young people’s groups that could be useful?
  • What activities can your family plan to do to be active together

A child doesn’t need to do all 60 minutes of physical activity at one time. It can be built up over the day through a range of different activities, making it easier to succeed and to do even more than 60 minutes a day.

For children who resist physical activity, the article offers the following suggestions for increasing their confidence and involvement:

  • Increase your own activity levels to act as a role model for your child
  • Explore a range of both organized and informal activity (like walking to shops or riding a bike)
  • Offer opportunities for non-competitive activities that encourage socializing
  • Encourage participation in community programs that involve a lot of physical activity but don’t make a big deal of it. For school-aged kids, community groups like Scouts and Girl Guides offer lots of social, fun-based, cooperative activity and skills-building; for younger children, drop-in programs at community centres, family places, friendship centres, and neighbourhood houses offer opportunities for active fun.
  • If your child is uncomfortable playing actively with other children, due to shyness or previous bad experience, then try non-competitive, unstructured activity. Kicking a ball together at the playground at a quiet time of day can help to build social confidence and strong positive relational memories.