Upgrade Your Approach to Kids’ Screen Time

Today, nearly 50 percent of kids touch their first screen while still wearing diapers. About three-fourths of teens have smartphones. But how much screen time should children be exposed to? To help answer this question, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released a set of guidelines, and they offer these key points to guide parents.

For Infants and Toddlers

Age 2 and younger remains too early to reap many benefits from technology. What’s more, plunking toddlers in front of a TV or tablet reduces chatter with parents that’s critical to brain development. Infants and young toddlers need hands-on exploration and social interaction to develop thinking, language, social, and emotional skills.

That said, a total ban isn’t necessary, the panel noted. Instead, limit media use and only allow your children to use screens with an adult to talk with them and to help them apply what they learn. Video chats with family and parents are a good example of appropriate media use for this age group.

High-quality, educational programming can be introduced around 18 to 24 months, the AAP says. And up to age 5, these shows should be limited to one hour per day. Parents should watch alongside their children to help them understand what they see, the AAP recommends.

For School-Age Children

Once they’re a bit older, educational TV and apps can help kids learn, provided you choose them wisely.

Still kids at this age should spend some time offline. The higher level thinking skills kids need to succeed in school, such as impulse control and creative, flexible thinking, are best learned through unstructured play and interactions with parents. Make a point to allow unplugged, unstructured playtime each day.

In addition, keep devices out of children’s bedrooms at night and stop all screen time at least an hour before bed. Discourage kids from watching TV or using other media while completing homework.

For Teens

Allowing adolescents on social media can help them develop their identities, expose them to new ideas and information on current events, and give them access to support groups and communities. Teach your teen about appropriate online behavior. For instance, discuss treating others with respect online, practicing online safety, and avoiding cyberbullying and sexting.

Create profiles yourself, or ask teens to show you what they do online. That way, you’ll know what’s happening in their virtual world. Take action if you see signs of cyberbullying.

In addition, make sure that your teen’s media habits allow them to get enough exercise and sleep each day.

At All Ages

Setting smart limits on media usage can prevent harms, from obesity to troubled sleep to problems at school and home.

One way to do it: Create a family media use plan. Together, draft a document that lays down basic rules. Consider:

  •  No screens in bedrooms

  • Unplugged family mealtimes

  • A “media curfew” at least an hour before bedtime

  • Sticking to age-appropriate content, as determined by movie, game, and TV ratings

Model proper media use yourself. For instance, put your phone away during family dinners. Skip violent TV programs in favor of those that foster empathy, kindness, and tolerance—for instance, those featuring an interracial cast.



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