Screen Time for Kids
New Guidelines Distinguish Between Tech for Learning vs. Fun
In an age where smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices have become commonplace, it can be difficult for parents to limit kids’
exposure to screens.
For years the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents limit screen time for children ages 2 and older to less than two hours a day and encouraged no screen time at all for children under age 2.
The AAP recently announced it will adjust its recommendations to keep up with the evolving technological landscape. The official guidelines will differentiate recreational screen time from educational screen time.
Positive vs. negative time
Educational screen time engages a user’s intellect and may require him to create something new, while recreational use entertains, rather than teaches.
Common Sense Media, one of the leading children’s media advocacy groups, divides screen time into four different categories:
- passive consumption (watching TV)
- interactive consumption (playing video games)
- communication (texting)
- content creation (creating art, music or text)
“If kids are using high-quality, age-appropriate media, their behavior is positive and their screen time activities are balanced with plenty
of healthy screen-free activities, there’s no need for worry,” says Michelle Hernandez, communications coordinator for Common Sense.
She says parents should recognize that tablets, iPhones and other technology can be used for positive purposes.
The AAP suggests incorporating two-way communication into media use — via live interactions with a parent, for example — as a good way to enhance a child’s media experience.
Parents can use technology “to assist with homework and help kids learn through family discussions of what kids are watching, creating a positive media experience,” says Dr. Lee Pachter, chief of general pediatrics for St. Christopher’s Hospital in Philadelphia and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
See page 2 for cautions about the effect of excessive tech time on behavior and health.
How much is too much?
Parents should keep an eye out for signs that their child’s recreational screen time has become excessive.
Technology overload has been linked to health problems like obesity, lack of sleep and poor performance at school, not to mention less time for imaginative or outdoor play.
To help limit exposure, Common Sense recommends parents keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom, stick to a schedule for technology use — especially during the school week — and set a good example by curbing their own computer and phone use.
“Parents should set limits, and this applies to digital limits, too,” says Dr. Kate Cronan, a medical editor for KidsHealth and an attending physician in the division of emergency medicine at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. “They should stay involved and know who their children are ‘talking’ to online.”
Screen time and behavior
According to the AAP, the content of the media children are exposed to is even more important than the amount of time they spend using it.
“Increased exposure to inappropriate media can affect a child’s reasoning, attention span, problem solving — all a part of what’s called executive functioning,” says Pachter.
Overindulgence in screen time can also lead to issues like bullying, Pachter says, when a child does not get enough experience with face-to-face communication.
The AAP is changing its screen time guidelines because technology has become commonplace in our lives. The new
recommendations aim to help parents establish a healthy balance of educational and recreational screen time for their children.
Alexa Bricker is a senior at Temple University and an intern at MetroKids.