Kids and Screen Time: Decoding the New Rules
New recommendations about children's media use from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and tips from a Nemours pediatrician on how you can unplug.
By Dr. Michelle Karten
There’s no getting around it: Screens are everywhere. Take a look around next time you’re at a restaurant, coffee shop, on the bus, at the park, or even in your own home. How many people — adults and kids — have their eyes on a screen instead of on the world around them?
Of course there is a time and place for screen time. But with the arrival of new recommendations about children’s media use from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it’s a good reminder for all of us to get our own habits in check.
Here’s a breakdown of the new guidelines:
For children younger than 18 months: Avoid use of screen media altogether, except for video chatting (FaceTime, Skype, etc.).
For children 18 to 24 months of age: Parents of this age group who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children. This will 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 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: Make dinner time or when driving kids to and from their various activities a phone-free zone. Create media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
Have ongoing communications about online citizenship and safety: This includes talking to your kids about treating others with respect online and offline.
How to Unplug
Too much screen time for children has been linked to obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, and impaired academic performance. On a more basic level, think how many times in your own household, everyone scatters to get on some sort of electronic device.
We all know the value of being plugged in: texting to keep in touch about the many after-school activities, computers to get homework done, etc. But despite our busy schedules, there are plenty of ways and opportunities to unplug and unwind with your family.
Create a screen time budget. Make it a house rule that screen time (other than for homework) for all family members is limited to two hours per day.
Make time for family meals, whether it’s breakfast before school and work, a special weeknight dinner, then brunch on Sunday. Agree to turn off all electronic devices during the meal — especially the TV.
Start a game night tradition one night a week and let each family member have a chance to choose the game.
Accomplish a family project together, like cleaning the garage, painting, working in the yard, or volunteering in your community.
Spend the day outside. Enjoy these beautiful autumn days by going apple picking, decorating outside for fall, or taking a family hike at one of our many local parks.
The AAP can help you create a Personalized Family Media Use Plan, that will help you to think about the media your family consumes, create goals to limit media use, and help you set rules that are in line with your family’s values.
Most importantly, don’t let emails, texts, and instant messages replace actual conversations with your kids. In the car, at the dinner table, even right before tucking your young child in for the night, these are all great opportunities to chat face to face.
Dr. Michelle Karten is a primary care physician at Nemours duPont Pediatrics in Villanova.
Photograph by Stefan Dahl for Canva.