AAP Releases New Screen Time Guidelines

What do the new guidelines mean for your toddler?

Father and daughter using ipad
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You've heard the recommendation echoed by every parenting expert since your child was born: Zero screen time until after your toddler turns 2. And while parents often make an effort to follow this recommendation, many find it difficult to navigate our screen-saturated world without allowing their young child to so much as lay eyes on a screen, much less play with an iPhone app or two. 

Here's the good news: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has revised its statement to recognize that previous screen time recommendations are a near-impossible goal in this media-saturated world.

The new recommendations are more nuanced, provide guidelines for different ages, and recognize that some digital media does have educational value for young children.

Among the recommendations for toddlers? According to the AAP:  

For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing. For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

These new recommendations continue to recognize that screen-free time is incredibly important for children of all ages and should be prioritized and that choices surrounding digital media must be made based on common sense.

Parents are responsible for setting boundaries and teaching children to be good digital media citizens. So what does this mean for parents of toddlers? Here are some tips you can use when deciding how to manage your toddler's screen time:

The risks still exist. While it may be moot at this point to require strict time limits in a world where screen time is unavoidable, studies show that kids who spend too much time with the computer, TV, and other devices are at an increased risk for obesity, behavior issues, and sleep disturbances, in addition to having less time to participate in important developmental play and other activities.

The quality of media matters. If your toddler is going to consume media, it's important to make sure the content is age-appropriate and educational. With thousands of apps geared toward young children, it's difficult to know what is worthwhile, so do your research before determining which ones to let your child use. If you allow your child to watch television, ensure that the programs you choose are appropriate as well. PBS provides educational programming—think Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood—that can help reinforce important social lessons for young children. 

'Digital guidance' begins at a young age. It's a parent's responsibility to set boundaries and provide guidance around digital media and television and that should begin when a child is very young. Some surveys show that adults can spend upwards of two hours a day on their phones and other devices—texting, making phone calls, scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and responding to emails—but in order to ensure your child isn't constantly angling for access to your phone, you need to put limits on how much time you spend on these devices.

This isn't a free for all. Acceptance of our digital media-filled world doesn't mean it's TV time 24-7. It's still extremely important to ensure screen-free time for our young children. That means setting boundaries and creating no media zones in our homes. Phones and other devices should be put away during meals, and toddlers should have ample time during the day to engage in creative and physical play sans screens.

Co-viewing is key. The new AAP guidelines stress the importance of parents watching television with their young children. This means that the TV doesn't do double duty as a babysitter. Parents need to be present and help their kids understand the shows they are watching and reinforce lessons they see on educational programs. 

Use common sense. Toddlers don't need more than one hour of TV time nor do they need devices available to them at all times, so set boundaries and make screen time special (traveling is a great opportunity for special screen time). The new AAP guidelines suggest having a family media plan, so that children grow up understanding how to appropriately interact with the digital world around us.

Source: 

American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2016. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Announces-New-Recommendations-for-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx​

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