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American Association of Pediatrics Changes View on Screen Time

by Pamela Martin-Diaz | Oct 15, 2015
In an effort to keep pace with the realities of today's families, the American Academy of Pediatrics has changed its stance on screen time and children. Until just last week they were advocating NO screen time for children age 2 and under and at most, 2 hours a day, preferably co-viewing with an adult, for older children.
baby ipad
Their new recommendations are a seismic shift, raising questions and concerns for those of us who believe the research that they previously cited to discourage the use of screen time for very young children.(See below for the statement.) They did not cite new research supporting their approval of infant and toddlers watching screens. (See for a summary of research-based concerns.)
I wish that they had more strongly emphasized the importance of face-to-face interaction between adults and children, especially babies and toddlers who need that kind of contact to develop language. I understand that an app that is engaging and encourages creativity and exploration might not be just fun (although is there anything wrong with that?), but developmentally appropriate. I know that there is a difference between skyping with a relative and passing a device over to a child for entertainment because the child "likes" it and let's be honest, it's easier than saying no. I am also all too aware of adults who are not monitoring their own consumption of media. (Think about the families who eat out, each with his or her own device in lieu of conversation.) I know that I am reading fewer books than I did before the advent of streaming and Facebook; I doubt I am alone in this!
Policies and recommendations aside, let's use some common sense and ask ourselves some questions before granting young children access to apps and other kinds of programs. Some of these questions are:
     What would the child be doing if he or she weren't using the device?
     Is the child able to adjust to time without a screen without fussing or demanding a device? Is screen time supplanting time spent with family and friends, or even just time for the child to be with his or her own thoughts? What kind of products are being promoted via advertisements as part of free apps?
What do you think?
    Here are the new guidelines from the AAP:
  • Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects.

  • Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.

  • Role modeling is critical. Limit your own media use, and model online etiquette. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.

  • We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video presentations do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age 2, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.

  • Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.

  • Curation helps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality (Hirsh-Pasek KPsych Science2015;16:3-34Google Scholar). An interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media ( that review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.

  • Co-engagement counts. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.

  • Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime, especially for the very young.

  • Set limits. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Does your child’s technology use help or hinder participation in other activities?

  • It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are integral to adolescent development. Social media can support identity formation. Teach your teen appropriate behaviors that apply in both the real and online worlds. Ask teens to demonstrate what they are doing online to help you understand both content and context.

  • Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and healthier sleep.

  • Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy. Certain aberrations, however, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, signal a need to assess youths for other risk-taking behaviors.

Pamela Martin-Diaz
Early Literacy Coordinator/Branch Manager
Allen County Public Library

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