The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a new, more relaxed, set of guidelines for children and screen time. The original guidelines, set in 1999 before every home had an iPad and Wi-Fi, recommended no screen time for children under age two. The new guidelines acknowledge parents are going to let their children use technology and watch TV; they just want you to watch with them. The new AAP guidelines reinforce there should be no solo screen time for any age.
Babies under 18 months
The AAP still recommends no screen time with the exception of live video chat such as Facetime or Skype. The report says there is no recognized evidence that babies benefit from video chat, yet parents consistently say video chat isn’t the same as in front of a television or iPad.
Natalie Schwartz, a Memphis mother of three children under the age of 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. “That airport moment alone is worth it to let my young kids consistently video chat my parents.”
Babies 18–24 months
The AAP says parents should look for high-quality programming to introduce to their children. Although the AAP doesn’t recommend specific programs, they do encourage parents to sit with their children and watch. Again, interaction between adult and child is key.
These new 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.
Kayla Curlee, mom to 5-year-old Abigail, didn’t need the AAP to remind her to choose educational viewing. Curlee started playing iPad games alongside Abigail when she turned one year old.
“When she was younger, I would explain to her it was a cow, and a cow says ‘moo.’ It helped with her learning where she could see it, hear it, and play with it,” says Curlee. “It really is a great learning tool. And she definitely hasn’t had any learning delays because of it.”
In fact, the Mother’s Day Out Program her daughter attends has regular iPad learning time built into their schedule.
Preschool ages 2–5
For those parents who have managed to hold off introducing technology to their babies, the AAP says 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 the world around them. Watch the show with your child, talk about the show with your child, and apply the show to your family life.
Stephanie Biggs has successfully managed to keep television, iPads, and iPhones out of her young children’s life. She limits their TV time to one family show per week that they watch as a family. Although she started instilling in her children early to not rely on electronics for entertainment, with no Wi-Fi or cable in her house she says it actually hasn’t been much of a challenge to keep them unplugged, even though they are now elementary school-aged and surrounded by peers who watch TV.
“I chose this lifestyle because I wanted my kids to rely on their imagination,” says Biggs. “It’s worked because my kids never say they are bored.”
Although Biggs acknowledges what works for her family doesn’t necessarily work for everyone’s, she says she has encountered very little judgment from others about her low-tech family lifestyle.
“I don’t announce my family’s choices to everyone I meet, only when it’s appropriate and I know the other family well,” she says. “Most people can relate so really it’s not an issue.”
Ages 6 and older
The new guidelines don’t lay out specific screen-viewing time limits for school-age children. At this age, parents are cautioned to watch for a balance of media use with other healthy behaviors.
Be sure all screens are turned off at a designated time so as to not interfere with sleep
Incorporate media-free family time, such as at dinner or in the car
Schedule a daily dose of physical activity before any inactive screen time
Have open and ongoing communication with your child about online bullying, safety, and respect for others
Although most parents agree these new guidelines won’t change their family screen-time rules much, if at all, the new rules are a step in the direction of incorporating technology into modern family living.
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, as well as set hourly limits per family member.
Jennifer Williams-Fields is passionate about writing, yoga, traveling, public speaking, and being a fabulous single momma to six super kids. Her first book, Creating A Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned From Yoga and My Mom, is now available on Amazon. Find her on Facebook, Twitter (@JennifWFields), or her blog, Downdogs and Deadlines.