Looking for guidance for how your children should interact with those screens that are everywhere in today’s world? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Photograph by Gerd Altmann-Pixabay
In the last few years, the American Association of Pediatrics (the AAP) has updated their “screen time” guidelines for children and I thought it was important for today’s parents to know what these experts are currently recommending. In the past the AAP recommendations stated that any screen-time for children under the age of two years was strictly forbidden-no ifs, ands, or buts. This recommendation created an uproar among parents as you can imagine. But things have changed recently. The AAP has modified their under two year old restriction as well as some of their other screen advice, noting the potential of screens to, connect families, foster imagination, and allow children to explore learning opportunities in safe controlled environments- under the guidance of adults of course.
Summary of Current Research
Current research serves as the guide to the newest AAP guidelines. As in the past, the latest research still confirms that screen time does not improve the language skills in children under 12 months of age and only marginally has benefit for children between 12-24 months of age in terms of language development. It is interactive language with others that is the basis of learning language in young children, not passive screen watching, pure and simple. Therefore, the AAP now recommends that children under the age of 18 months not have screen exposure except for video chatting. For children 18-24 months, they have loosened up and recommend that children in this age range should only have exposure to video chatting and high quality content that they consume with a parent or other adult. For children ages 2-5 years old, parents should allow no more than 1 hour a day of high quality content and should co-watch with their children. The research shows that the act of watching media content on a screen, with a parent or adult, is important for learning. Parents of older age children should work to develop a clear media plan and boundaries as a family. More on this in a bit.
An important and stressed component of the new AAP screen recommendations is the quality of content. The AAP is very clear in saying that the content should be carefully chosen. Parents should be particularly wary of the thousands of apps and shows labeled as “educational”. Educational according to who? They warn, be discerning!
Here are some of the recommendations for parents as given by the AAP:
1. Set screen limits at every age. Limit-setting is key in digital media use — just like in diet, behavior, sleep, and parenting in general. Parenting strategies are the same across various environments, including screen media.
2. Avoid displacement. When using digital media, caregivers should consider what it is displacing, and strive to maintain protected time for conversation, play, and creativity.
3. Address digital etiquette. Children and young adults must learn that online interactions should follow the same social guidelines as face-to-face encounters. Conversations about appropriate content, etiquette, empathy, and safety should occur early to provide a foundation for all digital media use.
4. Engage in using digital media together. Parents are advised to let their children show them what they are doing online; this helps children feel empowered and helps the parent learn while both parent and child are engaged. While classic parent-child activities like reading a story or playing a game look different in digital formats, it remains important to value time spent together.
5. Create definitive media-free zones. Create media-free zones such as during meal times and at bedtime, and set aside specific days or hours as “media-free” periods. Parents should also eliminate background TV, which dramatically reduces conversation or “talk time” with children.
6. Model media behaviors. Adults need to be attentive to their own personal digital media use (or over-use). Parents and other caregivers may ignore their children when using their own devices, and parental behavior provides strong modeling for children’s behavior, including adult digital media use.
Summary and Conclusion
With regard to screen time and children, here is what we know. The AAP has somewhat loosened their screen-time recommendations, and also acknowledged that media has potential to be used as a tool for children. The key here is the word “tool”. The AAP says that media should be used as a “tool, rather than a babysitter, reward, or punishment”. The experts also admit that concepts about children and screen time are evolving and more research needs to be done. However, some key components ring true: setting boundaries, monitoring quality of content, co-watching with your children, parents serving as role models for how one should interact with their screens, and clear media-free zones (think dinner table and bedrooms) all need to be thought out and implemented.
Hopefully this helps to shed some light on what is now recommended as far as screen time guidelines for your children. Don’t forget one of my favorite Doc Smo pearls which is, “Don’t let the Mario brothers (or any other media creation) have more impact on your children than you do.”
As always, thanks for choosing to spend some of your precious time with me, Doc Smo. I am honored. I have been making this podcast for the past 10 years as my way of improving the lives of children and families. If you find value in this podcast, take a moment to hit a few like buttons, send in your comments, or recommend Portable Practical Pediatrics to someone who you think might also enjoy learning about pediatrics. And of course, don’t forget to check out my newest book on Amazon called Great Kids Don’t Just Happen. It is getting rave reviews and I think you will really enjoy reading it. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, reminding you that it is not being mean, to limit those screens. Until next time.
Thanks to Sonya Williams, Dr. Monica Miller and Dr. Charlotte Rouchouze for their help in researching and writing this pedcast.