American Academy of Pediatrics Relaxes Screen Time Guidelines: What They Mean for Parents

In the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had put out screen time guidelines for kids that just seemed unrealistic for many parents. Kids today are surrounded by digital media all the time, so not only is it tough to define “screen time,” it’s challenging to severely limit screen time as well. In October, the AAP released new recommendations, tweaking screen time guidelines to make them more realistic for our digital age.

“It doesn’t make sense to make a blanket statement [of two hours] of screen time anymore,” Dr. Yolanda Reid, a UCLA assistant professor, said in an interview with CNN.

For some children, Reid noted, two hours of screen time may be too much. Instead of being so rigid, the newly released guidelines are a bit more fluid instead of imposing blanket rules.

It’s also important to note that in the new guidelines, screen time is identified by the AAP as time spent using screens for entertainment. Using digital media for homework projects and other similar endeavors doesn’t count as screen time.  Here’s a closer look at the new guidelines, what they mean for parents, and how you can create a digital plan that meets the unique needs of your family.

New Guidelines for Infants

In the past, the AAP had recommended that children under the age of two should have no screen time at all. That recommendation has been loosened just a bit. While the pediatric group recommends that infants under 18 months avoid screen time, except for perhaps video chatting, it did allow for the introduction of digital media in infants between 18 months and 2 years of age. Using quality programs and watching those programs together is recommended.

Despite the changes or because of them, the AAP’s new guidelines are not without controversy. Many parents still believe it’s impossible to completely avoid screen time for infants 18 months old and younger. With smartphones, televisions, tablets, and other screens all around us, sticking with these guidelines can be very difficult for parents of infants. Meanwhile, other parents believe the AAP is being too lax in now allowing screen time for infants under two.

Guidelines for Kids 2-5 Years

The recommendation for kids between ages two and five is an hour per day of screen time. According to the AAP, parents need to prioritize unplugged, creative playtime for kids in this age group. When kids are exposed to digital media, they should be exposed to high-quality programs that won’t overstimulate children. Watching with your kids at this age is key. Seattle Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. Megan Moreno notes, “We encourage parents to participate in the media.” New recommendations also urge parents to avoid using digital media to sooth kids, since it could keep them from developing important coping skills.

Guidelines for Kids 6 Years and Older

No longer giving hard and fast rules for kids over age six, the AAP now recommends that parents come up with digital media limits tailored to their child and the family. However, they do encourage parents to prioritize productive media use over simply using digital media for entertainment. It’s also important for parents to ensure that digital media isn’t replacing healthy activities, such as physical activity, social interaction, and sleep.

Encouraging Healthy Screen Time

One of the most important recommendations stressed by the AAP is for parents to ensure that they are encouraging healthy screen time. It’s less important to focus on an actual screen time limit and more critical to focus on building healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Designating media-free times as a family and media free areas of the home can help encourage healthy habits. Kids need to have some media-free time, and media-free time together as a family is essential as well.

It’s also essential for parents to be selective about the type of screen time kids are getting. Make sure kids are using apps and programs that are educational and creative.

“Just because it says it is educational does not mean that it is something that will help the child grow and develop well,” pointed out pediatrician Dr. Minu George, in an interview with LiveScience.com.

Parents also need to be good role models, showing kids a good example of responsible, healthy screen time habits. If parents constantly have their heads buried in a digital device, kids will pick up those habits as well.

Creating a Customized Digital Plan for Your Family

With these more flexible guidelines, the AAP recommends that parents create a customized digital plan for the entire family. One of the best ways to do so is to use the Family Media Plan tool, a helpful tool available from HealthyChildren.org. This easy-to-use tool allows you to customize a media plan based on the ages of your children. You can choose screen-free zones in your home, come up with screen-free times, set device curfews, and choose media that is good for your child. The tool even helps your child balance on-screen and off-screen time and encourages digital safety and good manners.

Media isn’t a bad thing that needs to be harshly restricted. It has the potential to be very beneficial for children when it is used responsibly. As media continues to evolve, guidelines for using it are evolving well. Digital media is here to stay, and the AAP has realized that, relaxing its guidelines and encouraging parents to be involved in their child’s digital media use so kids develop healthy habits.

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