AAP Issues New Guidelines for Children’s Exposure to Digital Media

Children play Tablet on white backgroundHow can a parent know how much technological media is good for his/her developing infant/toddler/child/teenager to be exposed to on a daily basis before it becomes detrimental? Under what circumstances does it become detrimental? How do you determine what too much looks like? It is an especially difficult decision when the devices, programs, and technologies change daily.

In the explosion that has occurred over the past few years, of devices that have gotten smaller, smarter, more compact, offering more options, better graphics, etc., the love-hate relationship has blossomed to levels that invade every phase of everyday living, for all ages, across global lines.

How can you, as a parent, make the judgement call, when even the “experts” were not sure WHAT limits should be set, or even IF they should be set? In October of 2015, the AAP issued some preliminary guidelines in the form of “Advice for Families on Media Use”. Up until then, the 1999 guideline was clear; “No screen time for children under 2 years of age.” That decree was made when TV was THE media in use, before all the new technologies became available.

Finally, as of this past Friday, October 21st, the American Academy of Pediatrics released, in a streaming Facebook-live announcement, the results of a year-long study of the effects of devices on children in different stages of development. It also offered specific tools that could be used as the means by which healthy, positive changes could be made as a family, to improve the media experience, while at the same time allowing the other healthy requirements of childhood to be re-established.

Also clearly stated, was that not all of the media programs offered for young children’s viewing as “educational”, are the ones that are approved and endorsed by the AAP as being positive and helpful for that audience, because of the content. How do you change the habits of your children, if they have been used to being online, on the computer, cell phone, or tablet, etc., for very long periods of time, and from a very young age? First, you clearly have to identify the problem and its source. Then you have to establish or change the rules! And you must stay involved.

The new guidelines that are recommended by the AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS for media interaction for children, are:

  1. Make your own family media use plan. Media should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life.
  2. Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them.
  3. Set limits and encourage playtime. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity.
  4. Families who play together, learn together. Family participation is also great for media activities—it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning.
  5. Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use.
  6. Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth “talk time” is critical for language development.
  7. Limit digital media for your youngest family members. Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programing, and watch it with them so you can help them learn from what they’re seeing. See Healthy Digital Media Use Habits for Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers
  8. Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes, other family and social gatherings, and children’s bedrooms screen free.
  9. Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down.
  10. Apps for kids – do your homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality.
  11. It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world.
  12. Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely, and includes texting of inappropriate pictures.
  13. Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment.

nancyOn an interesting note, for the first time, the AAP has provided recommendations for what they consider to be acceptable content for viewing by young children – for example “Some media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it’s critically important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS.”

Finally, there is a general consensus that the role of technology in children’s lives – and family lives in general – is evolving. To make it even more challenging, there is NO BASELINE to map against: every child, every family is different and technology will play a unique role in each.

To help families maintain a healthy balance between digital and real life, the AAP has developed an interactive, online tool so families can create a personalized Family Media Use Plan and Media Time Calculator. The Media Use Plan takes you step by step and allocates for each child (based on their age) proper media use such as screen free rooms, screen free times, device curfews, what devices can and can’t be used for what purpose, etc. The Media Time Calculator (see the example provided here) divides 24 hours over typical activities for each child (again based by age) and allows you as a parent to proactively allocate your child’s day, including their media usage. It’s incredibly eye opening to see how much time can easily wind up in Screen Time if not allocated elsewhere.

Overall parents – the results emerging from these announcements are positive. The AAP is looking at digital technology use by families very pragmatically. And like we concluded in our review of their 2015 articleBeyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use”, it is what your child is doing more than purely how much time they are spending in front of a screen that matters…and the fact that you as parents care…and are asking the questions…and are monitoring…is half the battle.



About the Author

I am a former New Yorker, a new resident of Georgia, and I have three daughters, four stepsons, and six grandchildren. I’ve had a career as a musician/entertainer and educator, and have now focused my attention on this cause, which I find to be of utmost value to moms, dads, and other caregivers of children. It feels good to be able to contribute to keeping kids healthy and safe.


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  1. […] The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) held their annual conference this week in San Francisco, and has used this event as a platform for announcing new or updated policy guidelines in a number of areas. One we reported on earlier this week was about New Guidelines on Children’s Exposure to Digital Media. […]

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