In October of 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a long awaited Policy Statement on media and childhood development. There has been much debate on this topic over the last decade and the most current research has given us the following guidelines:
|AGE||Recommendation (released by the AAP 10/2016)|
|< 18 months||No screen media other than video-chatting (FaceTime, Skype, etc.)|
|18 to 24 months||Parents can introduce digital media but should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help their children understand what they are seeing. Parents need to be discerning as many apps are not made to promote higher-order thinking skills.|
|2 to 5 years||Limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.|
|>6 years||Place limits on the time and type of media. Media should not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.|
Additionally parents should make an effort in the below two areas:
- Parents should designate media-free times together (meals and/or car rides), and media-free areas (bedroom and/or playroom).
- Parents should have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
The 2016 guidelines cut the 2013 screen-time recommendations in half. This change endorses what many experienced parents witness after they curtail media use in their household. Such “emancipated minors” spend more time with their toys, books, and outdoor activities; they inevitably sleep better, become less impulsive and become more self-regulating, social, creative, responsive, and engaged in imaginative play.
Undoubtedly, screen-time effects depend on what a child is looking at and how the device is used. For those who, like me, resort to screens to distract their child/children long enough to get dinner ready, avoid melt downs, or simply get dressed, the news isn’t good. Too much passive consumption is the offender. To make screen-time more enriching, an adult should watch and collaborate with children. Experts call this “structured joint attention.” Research by Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician who directs the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, suggests that every hour of entertainment programming a child watches in the first three years of life, increases his odds of exhibiting school related attention issues at age 7 by 10%. In addition, the AAP statement outlines health related concerns including, but not limited to, obesity, sleep disturbances, and delays in cognition, language, and social/emotional development.
The good news is that these stats change when content is educational. We have all witnessed the sponge effect: any amount and form of media will teach your child something. Ask yourself, what do I want my child to learn when he interfaces with this device? One study of first-graders who used an app called Bedtime Math, found that they gained on average a three-month advantage over peers in a single school year. For AAP approved preschool apps check out PBS Kids and Sesame Workshop. Organizations like Common Sense Media can help you evaluate media content and make smart decisions about what is appropriate for your family.
If you are an educator and want to understand the developing climate of media and youth, check out Connected Learning. It is a research network dedicated to understanding both the opportunities and risks of today’s media, and works to create effective learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational opportunity. If my last sentence didn’t lose you, you may also like Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.
The simple message to parents is that we need to make a whole-hearted effort to start with ourselves and put our screens away. The industry is cunning and has our heads in their cloud of smartphones, tablets, and streaming media. Personally, avoiding jumping to my phone after a missed call or text has been challenging. When my son was born it took time to become comfortable with my new normal. My husband and I had agreed that we were going to keep our phones out of sight when we were with our son. Naturally, I feared being available 24/7 as a concierge Pediatrician. How could I be attached to my phone and parent the way I want to? And at that moment, apple came out with the miraculous smartwatch! It allows me the freedom to play with my son without feeling like he is second place to my phone and work. During a free moment I take a peak at my wrist. This leaves my focus on the little man in front of me who wants to explore and climb any location not meant to be explored or climbed.
As for screen-time for my son, I am as guilty as any other parent. Early in his life, my son made a habit of crying to the point of vomiting in his car seat. Enter scene- the iPad. Thomas the Train became a quick fix again and again and again. Then not long ago, my husband persistently and gently insisted that the iPad be removed. Well voilá!! As reluctant as I am to admit it, my husband was right! Driving without the iPad in the car, I learned something new about my own child. He LOVES singing, talking and entertaining himself! It looks like his mother, the pediatrician, was the one with the crutch on a bad habit.