Parents Perspective

Pediatricians Change Their Recommendations About Screen Time

Since more than 30 percent of U.S. children first play with a mobile device when they are still in diapers, doctors want to help parents manage the digital landscape.

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Pediatricians are getting with the program. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long recommended that children have no screen time at all before age 2, and that older kids should have no more than two hours of screen time per day. But tomorrow the AAP will release new advice for parents that reflect the fact that our kids are growing up in an unavoidably digital age. Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., Chair of the AAP's Children, Adolescents, and Media Leadership Working Group, gave us the inside scoop.

"We are here to help parents," Dr. Brown told me. "We know the challenges and we want to be realistic in our approach. As a pediatrician and a mom, I have personally struggled with how to advise families (and my own family) with the explosion of technology as there are many benefits, but definitely some concerns."

What's most important is to help our kids learn healthy concepts of digital citizenship. It's up to parents to decide when to introduce technology and how much to allow. "Our previous guidelines preceded apps and iPads, and when we made the 2 hour rule, that was in reference to recreational time—before iPads became fixtures in schools," says Dr. Brown.

Here are the new tips from the AAP:

Treat media as you would any other environment in your child's life. The same parenting rules apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know their friends, both online and off. Know what platforms they are using, where they are going and what they are doing.

Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness online. Limit your own media use. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.

Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in "talk time" remains critical for language development. That can be face-to-face or via video chat with traveling parent or grandparent. It's the back-and-forth conversation that improves language skills.

Families who play together, learn together. Family participation in media encourages social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your insight helps children put their media experience into perspective. It's also a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette.

Do your homework on apps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality. Products pitched as "interactive" should require more than "pushing and swiping." Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews on age-appropriate apps, games and programs.

Set limits and encourage playtime. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits.

It's OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they find their own identity. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you're there if they have questions or concerns.

Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes tech-free. Recharge devices overnight outside your child's bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.

Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Handle these mistakes with empathy and use them as teachable moments. But some indiscretions, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, should be a flag to look further into your child's behaviors.

These guidelines are the culmination of the AAP's Growing Up Digital summit held last May, which brought together thought leaders from many disciplines, including technology experts. "In a world where 'screen time' is becoming simply 'time,' our policies must evolve or become obsolete," write Dr. Brown and her colleagues in AAP News.

Get the latest news about keeping your kids safe from radiation from cell phones, laptops, and tablets. Also check out Parents' 70 top apps for families.

Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mother of two girls. Follow her on Twitter: @ddebrovner.

Digital Devices and Children