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Pediatricians offer new guidelines on screen times for kids

Recognizing the role of media in children’s lives, the American Academy of Pediatrics is releasing new recommendations and resources to help families make decisions about screen time.

The academy recommends that parents develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education, and entertainment needs of each child as well as the whole family.

“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, M.D., FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “Media and Young Minds.” The report focuses on infants, toddlers, and pre-school children.

“What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor,’” said Radesky. “That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect, and learn.”

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. The three documents are included in the November 2016 issue Pediatrics.

The academy recommends parents prioritize creative playtime for infants and toddlers. Some media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, the academy said, but it’s important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS. And parents should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing.

Previously, the academy recommended no screen time for children age 2 and under. For older kids, two hours a day was suggested.

Now the academy is recommending that for school-aged children and adolescents, media use should be balanced 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, M.D., 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,” Moreno said. “The key is mindful use of media within a family.”

Problems begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration, and face-to-face social interaction in the real world, which is critical to learning, she said. Too much screen time can also harm the amount and quality of sleep.

Organizations such as Common Sense Media can help parents evaluate media content and make decisions about what is appropriate for their family, Moreno said.

Among the academy 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 one hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should watch media with their children to help them understand what they’re 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 doesn’t 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.

To support these recommendations, the academy is offering an interactive, online tool so families can create a personalized Family Media Use Plan.

Copyright 2016, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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