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Challenge: Kids and Technology

What's the Deal with 'No More Limits' on Older Kids' Screen Time?

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You probably know by now that America's pediatricians have new guidelines for how kids should use TVs, phones, tablets, and other screen-based media. Turns out the new American Academy of Pediatrics rules go much further than mere media and suggest how to "mindfully" plan a child's entire 24-hour day.

I asked Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, MD FAAP, a chief author of the guidelines, to explain:

1. The word "mindful" has become somewhat of a buzz word that can be confusing. Could you please clarify what one of your colleagues has termed "mindful use of media within a family"?

You're right. Perhaps a better word would be thoughtful. What's suggested is that parents and families consider what's best for each child, and develop a Family Media Use Plan that first ensures that children have time for healthy activities, such as play, exercise, face-to-face family and friend time, and adequate sleep. Entertainment screen use should not displace these activities. Additionally, screen time should be a social event as much as possible and use high quality apps and programs that provide opportunities for social interaction, physical activity, and creativity.

2. The recommendations suggest that parents co-view media with their children ages 18 months to 6 years old. Are you saying that parents can't leave their children alone while they watch high-quality material? Some parents may find it difficult to avoid doing that at certain times such as when cooking dinner.

These are recommendations, not rules. Do some parents use screens as sitters? Yes. But it's not a "best practice" for our children. There are better alternatives. For example, while making dinner, having a child at the kitchen table engaged in 3D activities that promote learning and development, such as coloring or playing with blocks. And being in conversational range while observing how dinner is made. Arranging with other caregivers and parents for playtime during necessary tasks. Enlisting relatives to help "watch" and engage with children at such times. Use help and creative options as much as possible. And even "high quality" programs and apps are best when co-viewed and co-used to enhance learning and growth.

3. The recommendations say that parents of kids 6 and up set "consistent limits" on the time spent using media. Why did the AAP decide not to give a specific hour-per-day limit? In the detailed recommendations, does the AAP have guidance about setting different media use time limits for different aged kids (such for as an 8 year old versus a 16 year old)?

We used to talk about a 2 hour limit for entertainment media, mostly passive TV viewing, to limit the risks of issues such as obesity. But more recent research has shown that, depending on age and activity level of media use, even as little as 1 to 1 and a half hours of screen time can increase the risk of obesity for some children. Therefore it's important for families to develop a Family Media Use Plan that takes into account the specific needs and risks for each child, and to consider, as noted above, permitting entertainment media use only when healthy activities such as exercise, social time, and adequate sleep are not displaced.

To make it easier for parents to plan a balanced child's day, the AAP has a new online tool, the Family Media Use Plan. I demonstrate how to use the Plan's slick Media Time Calculator in this 3-minute video:

And here's a little cheat sheet to help you set priorities. Happy balanced planning!


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