Student Well-Being

Pediatricians Set New Guidelines on Electronic Media Use by Young Children

By Christina A. Samuels — October 21, 2016 2 min read
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In a marked shift from recommendations first adopted in 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics has lifted its recommendation discouraging all electronic media use in children under the age of 2.

The new recommendations for children’s media use acknowledge that some media exposure can have educational value for children as young as 18 months, but it should be high-quality programming—the AAP specifically referenced “Sesame Street” and children’s programming provided by PBS. But parents should watch those programs with their children, not use the television as a parking spot for infants and toddlers. And families should still prioritize “unplugged” playtime for young children, the AAP said.

For children under the age of 18 months, media use is still discouraged other than video-chatting.

The academy also has recommendations for e-book use. Many of those books come with interactive elements that distract a child and make the book harder for a child to comprehend. Therefore, parents should read e-books along with their children, just as they would with a regular book.

For school-aged children, the AAP says that families should balance media use with other healthy behaviors. Media use in older children and adolescents can provide access to social networks, but it also runs the risk of interrupting sleep and leaving children at risk of cyberbullying. Because every family’s needs may be different, the AAP is directing families to a Family Media Plan web tool that can help encourage a “healthy media diet.”

A summary of the recommendations:

  • 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.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

AAP Screen Time Recommendations Evolved With Technology

The American Academy of Pediatrics indicated last year that it planned to update its recommendations on media use, which were first put out in 1999 and revised in 2011. In 1999, the focus was primarily on television and stated that there were significantly more negative than positive effects on children from television watching.

By 2011, the group expanded the conversation to DVDs and “web-based” programming, but maintained its language discouraging media use in children under age 2.

But last year, the organization released a document called “Beyond Turn it Off: How to Advise Families on Media Use” that acknowledged the technological shifts that have taken place since the recommendations were made.

“In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete. The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle,” the 2015 paper said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.