Screen Time for Kids

Find out what pediatricians recommend when it comes to kids and media.

Screen time for kids should not displace other family time.
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For many years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has strongly discouraged screen time for kids under 2 years old. The Academy has also advised parents to limit older kids' screen use to no more than 2 hours a day. In 2015, the AAP (a professional organization for pediatricians) updated this policy after convening a research symposium on media use in kids. It focused specifically on "early learning, game-based learning, social/emotional and developmental concerns, and strategies to foster digital citizenship." At this event, pediatricians consulted with social science, neuroscience, and media researchers, as well as educators.

"In a world where 'screen time' is becoming simply 'time,' our policies must evolve or become obsolete," wrote three AAP representatives in a statement summarizing the event's findings. "The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle."

New Screen-Time Advice

More formal recommendations are forthcoming. But based on the data shared at the symposium, the AAP now recommends that doctors communicate these "key messages" to parents:

  • Media has plusses and minuses. TV shows, apps, and games are not all good or all bad. "Media is just another environment," says the report, and thus it can have "positive and negative effects." (This is one reason why the AAP says "it's OK for your teen to be online," since there is no way to untangle social media from teens' social development.)
  • Parenting is parenting. Whether your kids are online or off, they need you to play with them, teach them kindness, set limits when needed, and be involved in their world. Just as you know your kids' friends in real life, know who they're interacting with online.
  • Be a role model. That means limiting your own screen time as well as demonstrating online safety and etiquette.
  • Make two-way communication a priority. Babies and toddlers learn language from conversations with parents and caregivers, not from watching videos. But after age 2, kids might use educational media to help in "bridging the learning achievement gap."
  • Worry about quality more than quantity. Instead of setting a time limit on kids' media use, the AAP recommends that parents take a look at the quality of the content. "Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer," the report suggests. To that end, don't take a self-labeled "educational" app at its word. Read reviews and check it out first.
  • Do it together. Especially for infants and toddlers, "co-viewing is essential." Older kids will also benefit, intellectually and socially, if you play games and watch shows alongside them.
  • Offline play is still important. It stimulates creativity (and, often, physical activity).
  • Set limits. Here, the AAP backs off from specific numbers and simply reminds parents that "tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits." In other words, it should not interfere with kids' other activities (from offline play to sleep, meals, sports, and so on). Similarly, families should create "tech-free zones," like bedrooms and the table at mealtimes. Doing so can improve everyone's sleep and eating habits, as well as family relationships.
  • Use teachable moments. "Kids will make mistakes using media. These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy," says the AAP. "Digital life begins at a young age, and so must parental guidance."

Source:

Brown A, Shifrin DL, and Hill DL. Beyond "turn it off": How to advise families on media use. AAP News Vol. 36, No. 10, October 2015.

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