From Minecraft to Snapchat to 400 channels of TV, the choices at the all-you-can eat media buffet are truly astounding. And then there’s the problem – not naming any names! – of parents who struggle with their own, ahem, overstuffed media diets. How can we possibly begin to manage what our kids are consuming? Just in time for the fall feast, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released new policy recommendations and resources to help families maintain healthy media habits.
First: talk with your kids
“Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,” said Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “Media and Young Minds,” which focuses on infants, toddlers and pre-school children. According to Radesky, what’s most important is for parents to establish a role as a ‘media mentor,’ teaching kids how to use technology and media as a tool to create, connect and learn.
Set age-appropriate limits
Remember the rule about no media before age two? Still holds true. The AAP recommends parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers. While they do recognize that some media (such as PBS and Sesame Workshop) can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, they also stress that it’s important for parents to watch along with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing.
A second policy statement, “Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents,” offers recommendations for children ages 5 to 18, and a technical report, “Children, Adolescents and Digital Media,” provides a review of the scientific literature to support both policies.
For school-aged children and young adults, the idea is to balance media use with other healthy behaviors. “Parents play an important role in helping children and teens navigate media, which can have both positive and negative effects,” said Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement on media use in school-aged children and teens. “Parents can set expectations and boundaries to make sure their children’s media experience is a positive one. The key is mindful use of media within a family.”
Problems begin when media use interferes with physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction, which is critical to learning. Too much screen time can also harm the amount and quality of sleep.
Use this checklist when thinking about what’s right for your kids:
For children younger than 18 months: Avoid use of screen media other than video chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
For children ages 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.
For children ages 6 and older: Place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
Create a family media plan
Just like diets and portion control, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so the AAP recommends that families develop a plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child as well as the whole family. To get your started, check out their interactive, online tool so families can create a personalized Family Media Use Plan.
In addition, the AAP recommends that families designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms, and engage in ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
For more information on AAP recommendations including policy statements and tech reports, visit the AAP website.