Pediatricians Switch Up Screen Time Rules for Tots

Doctors say there’s no “one size fits all” approach to introducing kids to technology

kid on computer
Eirik Solheim via Flickr

Whether it’s parking a toddler in front of the television or letting a fussy kid fiddle with a tablet computer while eating out, may parents worry over how much screen time their children get. And for years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been there with recommendations. But their latest screen time rules throw all the rest out the window, acknowledging that there’s no one way to raise a child with technology.

The AAP has long suggested that parents limit their children to two hours of screen time per day. That includes time in front of any electronic device, be it TV, computer, tablet or smartphone, George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo. But while that time limit was agreed upon by panels of doctors, the AAP is now toning down that overarching recommendation in favor of more specifics regarding age and content.

"It doesn't make sense to make a blanket statement [of two hours] of screen time anymore," Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, a researcher at UCLA and author on a new report on the subject, tells Hailey Middlebrook for CNN. "For some children, two hours may be too much."

First to change is the very definition of screen time. In the past, pediatricians counted every minute of time spent in front of a screen equal, regardless of whether children spent that time watching a cartoon or playing a game. But the AAP’s latest recommendations account for whether that time is spent on entertainment or education, such as playing a videogame that helps teach them how to do math or learn new words, Ariana Eunjung Cha reports for The Washington Post.

That doesn’t mean, however, that babies should be allowed free reign to play “Angry Birds” as long as they want. For infants 18 months and younger, the AAP recommends completely avoiding screen time, except for chat apps like Skype that let them see family members, Dvorsky reports. Not only can the bright lights and sounds of computers, tablets and whatnot overstimulate the little kiddos, but it can be a distraction that prevents kids and their parents from bonding during a crucial time in both of their lives.

"[T]oo much media use can mean that children don't have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep," Chassiakos tells Cha. "What's most important is that parents be their child's 'media mentor.' That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn."

As they get older, though, the guidelines get a bit looser. Between 18 and 24 months, the AAP says kids can start getting introduced to digital media, though it should only be “high-quality programs,” Cha reports. The same goes for older toddlers, though the AAP says parents should play or watch alongside their kid, both to monitor their screen time and interact with them as well. At the same time, the recommendations suggest designating times for the whole family to set aside anything with a screen.

The omnipresence of screens in the modern world may make it harder for parents to keep their kids away from them for too long. But if they can show them a healthy, productive way to interact with computers, the better off their kids may be in the long run.

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