Good news, fellow weary moms! We have one less thing to feel guilty about today.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a new, more relaxed, set of guidelines for children and screen time.
The original 1999 guidelines recommended no screen time for children under age two. The new guidelines focus not just on time in front of an electronic screen, but with whom children are spending that time.
The theme of the new AAP guidelines is no solo screen time.
For babies younger than 18 months, the AAP still recommends no screen time with the exception of live video chat such as FaceTime or Skype. Although there is no recognized evidence that babies benefit from video chat, it is often the only way families can stay connected via long distance.
Natalie Schwartz, a Memphis mother of three children ranging in age from two to seven, used Skype and video chat to help her kids stay connected to their grandparents while they were away on a 20-month mission trip.
“Every Sunday evening we had family time over Facebook with my parents in Thailand. At the time, the baby was just two months old. But he would laugh and smile when he saw grandma on the screen," she says.
Schwartz and her family surprised the grandparents at the airport on their return home.
“My baby, who at that point in his life had only seen my parents via a screen, knew who my parents were and willingly and excitedly ran up to them and let my mom hold him because she wasn't a stranger. She was just grandma who was normally stuck in the screen,” remembers Schwartz.
Parents of children aged 18 – 24 months should look for high-quality programming to introduce to their children. Although the AAP doesn’t recommend specific programs, they do still encourage parents to sit with their children and watch. Again, interaction between adult and child is key.
Today’s recommendations don’t address earlier studies that found children who started watching TV younger than one year old were six times more likely to have language delays. The report does say that problems with excessive media viewing happen when it replaces physical activity, sleep, and face-to-face social interaction.
Once children reach the preschool years, ages 2 – 5, screen use should be limited to one hour per day. At this age, the AAP says parents should help children apply what they are watching to their world around them. Watch the show with your child, talk about the show with your child, and apply the show to your family life.
The new guidelines don’t layout specific screen viewing time limits for children six and older. They do caution parents to be sure media time isn’t replacing time spent personally interacting with other children and adults.
To help parents define healthy boundaries for media time, the AAP created an online interactive Family Media Plan. Available in both English and Spanish, the plan allows parents and caregivers to designate screen-free times and zones.
From the media plan website, “Media should work for you and work within your family values and parenting style. When media is used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life.”
The Family Media Plan also takes into account digital citizenship and online safety. There are checklists to go over with your child how to recognize online bullying, when to report bullying, and the importance of not giving out personal information online.
Yolanda (Linda) Reid Chassiakos, MD, FAAP, lead author of the report, emphasizes parental involvement is still the key component in the use of technology for children:
“Parents play an important role in helping children and teens navigate the media environment, just as they help them learn how to behave off-line. The AAP wants to provide parents the evidence-based tools and recommendations to help them make their children's media experience a positive one."