AAP Changes Advice for Parents on Screen Time – Finally

Happy child staring tablet.This May, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) convened an invitation-only Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium. This two-day event brought together leading social science, neuroscience and media researchers, educators, pediatricians, and representatives from key partner organizations. The problem they were to address: the most well-known of guidelines discouraged “screen time” for children under age 2 and limited “screen time” to two hours a day for children over age 2 …a bit archaic considering they were written prior to the introduction of the 1st iPad and the proliferation of apps aimed at young children. We even discussed the two-hour limit here at Pediatric Safety in a post called “Do we Shut off the TV until they Reach 2?” As I’m sure you can imagine…we disagreed.

So in May, the AAP met to evaluate available data, identify research gaps, and consider how to provide thoughtful, practical advice to today’s parents based on the evidence. Not surprising – by the end of the meeting – new recommendations emerged. (Note: a detailed overview of the meeting with recommendations for pediatricians, educators and parents is available here).

In a summary article entitled “Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use” presented in the AAP News by authors Ari Brown, M.D., FAAP, Donald L. Shifrin, M.D., FAAP and David L. Hill, M.D., FAAP, the following 12 key messages for parents emerged:

  1. Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects.
  2. Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.
  3. Role modeling is critical. Limit your own media use, and model online etiquette. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.
  4. We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video presentations do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age 2, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.
  5. Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
  6. Curation helps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality (Google Scholar). An interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) that review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.
  7. Co-engagement counts. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.
  8. Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime, especially for the very young.
  9. Set limits. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Does your child’s technology use help or hinder participation in other activities?
  10. It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are integral to adolescent development. Social media can support identity formation. Teach your teen appropriate behaviors that apply in both the real and online worlds. Ask teens to demonstrate what they are doing online to help you understand both content and context.
  11. Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and healthier sleep.
  12. Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy. Certain aberrations, however, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, signal a need to assess youths for other risk-taking behaviors.

Congratulations parents! While “official AAP recommendations” will likely not arrive until 2016, you may rest easy knowing what I’m guessing you have always known – that it is what your child is doing more than how much time they are spending in front of a screen that matters…and the fact that you care…and are asking the questions…and are monitoring…is half the battle.

About the Author

Stefanie Zucker is President and co-founder of Pediatric Medical and Managing Director and co-founder of Axios Partners, a strategy consulting firm. After a number of years spent researching the safety issues associated with transporting children on ambulances she became a child health safety advocate and formed Pediatric Safety with a goal of creating a world-wide movement of parents and caregivers inspired to protect the health and safety of kids. Stefanie is a member of the PedSafe Team


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  1. […] AAP is looking at digital technology use by families very pragmatically. And like we concluded in our review of their 2015 article “Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use”, it is what your child […]

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