Open Mind: Power off and play

Problems associated with screen time are on the rise.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently added gaming disorder to the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which will undoubtedly increase awareness about “all things digital.”

This will highlight the importance of balancing screen time with other activities. Screen time use that seems to be problematic includes gaming and social media.  This typically excludes homework,  research or reading.

Michelle Nogueira is an addiction, problem gambling and technology overuse counsellor at Homewood Community Addiction Services. 

She says the most common question she is asked is, “how much is too much?” Since screens have become such an integral part of our culture, should there be limits and why?

Nogueira believes there should be screen time limits and monitoring screen time is the first step. The Canadian Paediatric Society has published the following screen time guidelines for children and youth. 

They say no screen time at all for children under 2, less than one hour a day for children aged 2 to 4 and no more than two hours per day for youth 5 to 17 in addition to homework.

Nogueira is concerned that if screen time is not monitored it can lead to addiction. This can happen because, like substances, behaviours (gaming, technology, gambling, etc.) can release two to 10 times more dopamine in the brain than is released for natural survival rewards (e.g. food, water).

When the reward pathway is activated, the dopamine tsunami occurs and we want to repeat that behaviour. Repeating this behaviour over and over again can lead to addiction and can have a negative impact on the individual and the whole family (conflict, increased school absenteeism, decreased grades, lack of sleep, threats of suicide, aggression, self-harm, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, etc.).

As a prevention initiative, Nogueira encourages the Four M’s:

1. Minimize screen time – limit, discuss, and monitor. Remember … it is a family affair.

2. Mitigate risks – balance screen time with other activities (nature, outdoor time, exercise, family fun, hobbies). Remember … balance and variety are the spice of life.

3. Mindful – observe thoughts, feelings and body sensations prior to, during and after using screens. Remember … screen time is not a substitute for sharing.

4. Model – if parents can learn to use technology in a healthy way then they can show their kids how to do this as well. Remember … our kids learn from our behaviours!

Nogueira is clear that this is not only an issue impacting youth. Adults need to improve screen awareness and as parents we need to initiate conversations about screen time and model low risk behaviours ourselves. For more information on healthy habits visit:, or

Sources: Overcoming Addiction: Paths Toward Recovery, Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports (2011). Adapted: Digital Health Task Force, Canadian Paediatric Society, Screen Time and Young Children: Promoting Health and Development in a Digital World, June 2017.

Paula Frappier is a geropsychiatry community education coordinator with Homewood and CMHA.

The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. Contact For local mental health resources/information, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.

Paula Frappier