In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised screen time guidelines for children. The previous guidelines advised no screen time for kids less than 2, and no more than 2 hours in front of the TV for kids over the age of 2. With the advent of smart phones and tablets making screen time and Internet access nearly ubiquitous, many pediatricians and other professionals felt the AAP was long overdue in revising screen time guidelines to be more appropriate for current and future generations of children. Newly revised 2016 guidelines were broken down into four basic age groups with added flexibility to customize screen time to fit the needs of the individual child, as follows:
- For infants less than 18 months of age:
- Parents should avoid use of screen media other than video chatting.
- For infants 18 to 24 months of age:
- If desired, parent should choose high-qualityprogramming, and watch with children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For toddlers 2 to 5 years of age:
- Parents should limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality
- Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children 6 years of age and older:
- Place consistent limitson the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
These new guidelines recognize that visual media can be an important tool for development and educationwhen properly utilized. The problem is that many parents do not properly adhere to these guidelines. Contrary to what some may believe, these guidelines do not relax the parameters for screen time. Rather, these guidelines call for increasedparental investmentin actively regulating their child’s media consumption. Examples of inappropriate screen time, at times even commonly witnessed directly by pediatricians in clinic, include some the following:
- Parents using video streaming on mobile devices as a means of distracting their infants or children.
- Parents not adequately supervising screen time.
- Parents failing to set consistent limits on media use.
- Parents or children choosing to view poor quality programming with little educational benefit.
Adverse effects of unregulated screen time are well understood to include the following: obesity, sleep problems, problematic internet use (e.g. gaming disorders), negative effects on school performance, risky behaviors (e.g. substance abuse, inappropriate sexual behaviors), sexting, piracy, predators and cyber bullying.
Given the common adverse effects of unregulated media use, it is important to recognize that the above guidelines do not indicate AAP’s endorsement of screen time as a primary learning activity. The AAP recommends that parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtimefor infants and toddlers. The amount of daily screen time for older children depends on the child and family, but children should prioritize productive time over entertainment time.
The AAP provides an important but underutilized tool online that helps families build their own custom Family Media Plan (see link below). Pediatricians who wish to emphasize the importance of regulated screen time should consider providing this resource to families in their clinics. The plan provides a customizable template that includes setting important boundaries in the development of healthy screen time behavior.
Lastly, a quote from Bill Watterson, arguably one of the most creative minds of the late 1980s-early 1990s who is known for his authorship of Calvin & Hobbes, helps reinforce the importance of alternatives to screen time:
“We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set [or internet] and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running.”
Alex J. Foy, MD
Sources and Resources:
Build Your Own Family Media Plan
10 Tips for Becoming a More Active Family
Children and Adolescents and Digital Media
Constantly Connected: Adverse Effects of Media on Children & Teens