Should you limit how much time your child spends in front of a screen?

Girls looking at cell phoneUp until recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) took a very hard stance on managing children’s technology use. In the academy’s research-based AAP guidelines, they advised that “screen time” (or the amount of time a child spent using a device with a screen, such as a cell phone or tablet) should be prohibited for children under age 2 and limited to two hours a day for children over 2 years old.

The guidelines, initially published in 2011, were recently revised, however, to reflect the explosion of technology and apps aimed at young children. According to the non-profit Common Sense Media, more than 30 percent of children in the U.S. first play with a mobile device while they are still in diapers. Nearly 75 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have smartphones, of which 24 percent admit to using their phones almost constantly, reports the Pew Research Center.

According to the AAP, “screen time” is becoming simply “time,” and so they set out to review and update their guidelines, including through a two-day “Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium” in May. The goal of the symposium, notes the AAP website, was to evaluate available data, identify gaps in research, and consider how to provide thoughtful, practical advice to parents based on the evidence.

Here’s a recap of the AAP’s key messages and updated guidelines for managing media usage and screen time for kids:

  • Think of “media” as just another environment. Children will continue to do the same things that they have always done, but now do them “virtually” with technology. The only change in media is the environment. Similar to other environments, this can have both positive and negative effects.
  • The same parenting rules apply to both real and “virtual” environments. Play with your child and be involved in his or her life. Set boundaries. Know who your child’s friends are and where they and your child go, both in the real world and online.
  • Set a good example. If you worry that your child spends too much time in front of a screen, limit your own media use and screen time.
  • Quality rather than quantity. Put away the timer in favor of checking the media that your child views. The AAP notes that the quality of the content that children spend time with is more important than the media platform they use or the time spent using it. Don’t know where to start? Organizations such as Common Sense Media review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.
  • Get involved. Family participation in managing your child’s media usage and screen time not only allows you to monitor what your child interacts with, it also facilitates your child’s learning and social interactions. Especially for very young children, it’s essential that you be involved in the media they view and in their experiences. Your perspective can help to shape how your child understands and interacts with media.
  • Create tech-free zones. Although the AAP does not have strict guidelines for how much time your child should be or should not be in front of a screen, it does advise giving daily priority to “unplugged” playtime and to creating environments that are tech-free. For example, the AAP recommends prohibiting use of devices during family meal time and keeping devices out of your child’s bedroom overnight.
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Categories: Parenting Tips
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