Our Children in the Digital Age
In this digital age, it is difficult not to find screens virtually everywhere around us which makes it challenging for parents to manage their children’s exposure to screen time. With the explosion of technology comes the introduction of educational programs easily accessible with a single click but also comes the limitations on a child’s social development and physical activity among other concerns.
For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has restricted children to less than 2 hours daily of TV. However, with the expansion of smartphones and tablets, the AAP has revised their recommendations in 20161, 2 to become more realistic with the changing world as noted below:
- Birth-18 months: Avoid screen time except for video-chatting purposes.
- 18-24 months: Choose high quality programs/apps such as PBS, Sesame Workshop, and Common Sense Media and watch it with your children to explain and help them understand. Avoid letting children use media by themselves.
- 2-5 years: Limit screen use to 1 hour/day of high-quality programs. Parents should continue co-viewing with your children to provide explanations and application of content to the world around them.
- Older than 6 years: Parents should place consistent time limits to screen time and access to media types. Be cognizant of other healthy behaviors such as sleep, physical activity, and face-to- face social interactions.
- Other recommendations:
- No screen time during meals and 1 hour before bedtime. Remove devices from bedrooms before bed time. Turn off media when not in use.
- Establish screen-free areas: mealtimes, bedrooms, parent-child play time.
- Avoid fast-paced programs, violent content or apps with lots of distractions.
- Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Children need to learn strategies of self-regulating their emotions.
In general, the AAP recommends that parents encourage creative play time with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. This is a crucial time period for rapid brain development, relationship building and establishing healthy behaviors and routine. Research has shown multiple health and developmental concerns with excessive screen time including obesity, decrease sleep, cognitive, language, socio-emotional delays2.
For school-age children and adolescents, it is important to find a balance between media use with healthy behaviors such that excessive screen time does not displace time to sleep, eat, study, play and talk.3 There has been benefits to traditional and social media such as opening up platforms for support networks and providing access to new ideas and information. Risks of overexposure include obesity and poor sleep. Poor academic performance can be seen when media interrupts quality sleep or distracts children and adolescents from other tasks such as homework.3 A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that only screen time spent in front of TV and video games negatively impacted children’s academics.4 The influence of media has also been shown to affect health behaviors in adolescents such as earlier initiation of alcohol, tobacco use and sexual behaviors. There are also the challenges of cyberbullying, sexting and online solicitation which make things more complicated.3
The effects of media use are dependent on various factors including the individual, media type and how he/she uses it as well as amount and extent of use. Therefore, the astute parent must also develop individualized plans based on their children’s characteristics.3 The AAP provides a Family Media Use Tool on www.healthychildren.org so families can individualize a media plan appropriate for their family. For further information, please refer to the AAP HealthyChildren.org website.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016 October 21). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Announces-New-Recommendations-for-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx
- AAP Council on Communications and Media. Media and Young Minds. Pediatrics. 2016;138 (5):e20162591
- AAP Council on Communications and Media. Media Use in School-Age Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2016; 139 (5):e20162592
- Adelantado-Renau M, Moliner-Urdiales D, Cavero-Redondo I, Beltran-Valls MR, Martínez-Vizcaíno V, Álvarez-Bueno C. Association Between Screen Media Use and Academic Performance Among Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. Published online September 23, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3176