Parents should make a media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices, advised the American Academy of Pediatrics, when it announced new recommendations for media use by children at its annual meeting today.
The last time the AAP touched on this subject was in 2001 and the world has changed dramatically since then. The previous guidelines said no more than two hours of screen time each day, but even then, surveys indicated that the typical American child was in front of a screen for more than five hours per day. As the new guidelines point out, the average 8 to 10 year old in 2013 may be in front of a screen up to eight hours a day, some teens up to 11 hours a day, with 75 percent of teens owning their own phones and nearly all teens texting. Thus the old "two hours per day" limit no longer fits the world as it exists.
To help cope with this changing media world, pediatricians are now being asked to assess media use during annual checkups and evaluate whether there is a television screen and internet access in the child's bedroom and to counsel parents to turn devices off well before bedtime.
"A healthy approach to children's media use should both minimize potential health risks and foster appropriate and positive media use—in other words, it should promote a healthy 'media diet'," said Marjorie Hogan, MD, FAAP, co-author of the AAP policy in a written statement. "Parents, educators and pediatricians should participate in media education, which means teaching children and adolescents how to make good choices in their media consumption."
The new recommendations suggest that parents take a more active role in helping guide their children through the media maze including:
Making a media use plan to help your child learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children's media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values. This includes mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices.
Screens should be kept out of kids' bedrooms. Limit entertainment screen time to less than two hours per day.
For children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.
It also recommends that we do need more research on the impact of media on children and that we really don't know how media affect children. AAP is asking for a federal review and report and ongoing funding for research.
While the new technologies give children some learning opportunities, there are known drawbacks. Not all technology is good, nor is it all bad. If screen time cuts into time for active play or time socializing with others, this may impact health and emotional growth. The overall goal of the new AAP guidelines is to balance between screen time and other critical aspects of life. While electronic media are important in today's world, it is still not essential. We can all survive quite nicely without it, so we need to determine how to fit it into our lives and our children's lives.
Parents these days need to monitor how much time is spent in front of a screen, what their children are watching, how they are interacting with each other on social media, and make sure that essentials such as meal times, bed times, school work and active play are included in their child's daily life. The guidelines suggest that we, as parents, are going to have to work harder to make sure our kids get what they need in this electronic universe.
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