Today’s children are born into a world of touchscreens and are immersed in technology from a young age. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had previously determined that children over the age of 2 should spend no more than two hours in front of the TV. Today however, defining ‘screen time’ is difficult since we are perpetually in contact with one screen or another, from our TVs to computers to mobile devices, and from school to work to play.
According to Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, lead author of the ‘Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report’,
“For some children, two hours may be too much.”
New guidelines have been set out by the AAP in addressing the issue of screen time and children. They have identified screen time as time spent using digital media/devices specifically for entertainment. Using media for purposes such as online homework, don’t count as screen time. Parents of children older than 5 years of age, can manage their children’s screen time by setting a time limit, as well as monitor the types of digital media their children have access to. Determining the appropriate amount of daily screen time depends on the family and the child, but productive time ought to have the priority over entertainment time. In a press release from the AAP, Dr. Jenny Radesky said “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.” This is especially significant considering the innumerable, video games, apps, social media, and film streaming sites that kids have access to, on multiple devices, from personal smartphones to school-issued tablets.
“The environment of media has changed today,” Chassiakos said. Digital media undeniably has several significant benefits to children. It exposes them to new ideas and information, facilitates communication, promotes early learning, allows them to create, and among other things, has the potential to increase awareness and understanding of persons who differ from themselves. Chassiakos stated in the academy’s press release, “even though the media landscape is constantly changing, some of the same parenting rules apply. Parents play an important role in helping children and teens navigate the media environment, just as they help them learn how to behave offline.”
The AAP outlines several useful and easy and useful tips for parents
As children’s primary role models it is important for moms and dads to have healthy digital media habits themselves. They ought to be conscious of setting down cellphones, turning off the TV and shutting laptops at night.
“Young children can tell when their parents’ heads are always in their cells,” Chassiakos said. Setting the devices down and paying more attention to children can reduce incidents of them engaging in “irritable behavior.”
The academy advocates families designating “media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms,” according to the release. Getting phones off the dinner table allows families to have in-person conversations, which are very important for children’s development. Parents will also benefit from these media-free practices, as face-to-face interactions with family creates more intimate bonds. Having screen-free bedrooms can lead to longer undisturbed sleep for kids and parents, thus leading to better focus during the day.
Keeping tech devices out of bedrooms allows parents to better monitor the children’s digital media activity. Chassiakos suggests having children use computers in a common areas like the living room, for example, to ensure they finish any online homework assignments before using entertainment media or to keep an eye on the content of their entertainment choices.
Keeping a record of the number of hours children spend in front of the screen and matching it with time spent being physically active can help kids stay healthy. Parents can take kids outside for a game of catch or even a simple walk in the park, impacting weight management heart and muscle health, and increasing the opportunities to engage with their children.
“This doesn’t mean you can’t play video games with your kids,” Chassiakos said. “What’s most important is that families have media-free time, and when digital media is used, it’s used mainly for communication rather than entertainment.”
There are many benefits to be had from the proper management to screen time and mobile apps such as ‘ScreenTime’ are available to parents to help regulate their children’s device usage. Limiting the time children spend on digital media devices and increasing face-to-face play, and parent child interactions, ensures development of skills necessary for ‘school success’. Skills such as task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation and creative flexible thinking.
The AAA has designed a Family Media Plan tool, for help with constructing a digital media plan for the whole family, and it’s available on healthychildren.org.