We live in a digital world, and from the moment our children are born, it seems as if they are hardwired to know how to swipe an I-phone, download an app, or focus on the television. Prior to new guidelines released this fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made a stance of "no screen time under two" and "no more than 2 hours over 2". For many, this was vague, and at times unattainable. It also depends on the type of screen time utilized and if a parent is engaged with the child during the screen time in an educational format.
For children under 18 months, the AAP still says no screen time is best with one exception-live video chat. The AAP doesn't cite positive evidence that infants get something out of this type of conversation like live interactions, but there is some observational research that infants as young as 6 months are emotionally engaged in interactions via skype or facetime.
For children 18 months-2 years whose parents want to introduce digital media, there are a few studies that show children can learn new words from educational programming if and only if the parents are alongside them, repeating words and drawing attention to the program. In other words, treating the video or app like a picture book.
For preschoolers age 2-5, there is evidence that children have the ability to learn from some selected programs. Limit exposure to no more than 1 hour per day. The AAP has a strong brand preference here, naming Sesame Street and PBS as trusted entities which focus on children's educational formats and lack commercials. There are thousands of apps and programs which tout being "educational" but lack substance. The AAP encourages parents to take part in the educational process of screen time. The TV should not substitute as a babysitter.
Children 6 years and older are inundated with screen time in a variety of ways: from the computers they utilize in the school setting on a daily basis, to the phones they carry, to the i-pads they utilize for leisure time, there is the opportunity to be surrounded by screen time 24/7. AAP recommends no more than 2 hours screen time per day. Like anything else in life, it's trying to strike a healthy balance. Any given school age child has 8-12 hours of school and homework, needs to strive for 60 minutes activity every day, sleep for the recommended 8-10 hours and then fill in other time with emotionally and socially fulfilling activities. There are many positive aspects to digital media but also negative ones such as: cyber bullying, sexting, inundation with body images that are unhealthy, constant streaming of advertisements, and an open door for sexual predators to lurk.
Here are some good recap rules regarding screen time:
Avoid digital media under 2 unless video screen chatting with family/friends
- For children 18 mo-2 whom you want start digital viewing, choose high quality programming and watch with your child.
- For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high quality programming, co-view with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
- Avoid fast paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content. Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use. Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation.
- Ask your pediatrician for help if needed. Monitor children's media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together, and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
- Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent-child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a "do not disturb" option on their phones during these times.
- No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
Screens are almost always present in today's world. Placing limits on your child's use and monitoring content is the first step in helping them become healthy media consumers.