The Screen Time Chat
Have you had the chat about ‘screen time’ with your children? Have you been searching for a screen time guide?
What limitations did you end up putting in place?
Recently the American Academy of Pediatric’s (AAP) released a new set of recommendations and resources. A screen time guide to help families like yours find the right balance between digital and real life for their children, from birth to adulthood.
For years, the AAP had told parents to limit their child’s screen time to no more than two hours per day, with virtually no mention of children’s age, or the kind of content that should be limited, issuing a simplified blanket approach to media use.
Back in Nirvana
Children today grow up in a world that is vastly different to that of their parents. The majority of todays parents grew up in an era prior to the influx of technology. We grew up in a world that was rich in play and imagination. A world of out door activities and nature.
Sure it was low on technology, but it was rich in all things sensory. If there was mud nearby then we dreamed of being a chef baking mud pies, or built a mud city (fun!). If we wanted to be an explorer, then our backyards, the local park, or if you were lucky enough the bushland behind the house became an untamed wilderness in our imaginations.
Today, with the ever increasing caution of stranger danger; the ease of access to computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones has provided children (and parents) with an easier and more convenient alternative.
What is Screen Time?
Screen time can be defined as the time spent watching TV or DVDs, using computers, playing video or hand-held computer games, or using tablets or smartphones.
This time can be constructive and educational, or it can be recreational. Furthermore, within these broad categories, screen time can be either interactive or non-interactive.
It can be interactive such as when playing games communicating via FaceTime, or using online tools such as drawing. It can be non-interactive such as when sitting still watching a movie or TV, or YouTube videos.
Being (or Becoming) Proactive
The AAP recommends that parents and caregivers develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child as well as the whole family.
“Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,”
Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP
What is most important is that parents are present to be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.
Radesky also highlighted that the excessive use of digital media is linked to:
- sleep problems,
- academic delays, and
- language delays in young children.
She also noted that inappropriate or violent media content is associated with executive functioning deficits and behavioural issues.
“The blue light emitted from screens can inhibit our endogenous melatonin, the brain hormone which helps establish sleep rhythms, and the exciting content from TV, videos, or social media can keep our brains aroused. Many studies show associations between evening digital media use and problems falling asleep.”
Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP
The Screen Time Guide
So with that in mind, here are the new set of recommendations released by the AAP. A screen time guide to help families like yours find the right balance between digital and real life for children, from birth to adulthood.
1. Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months.
2. For children ages 18 to 24 months of age, if you want to introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming and use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.
3. Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early; interfaces are so intuitive that children will figure them out quickly once they start using them at home or in school.
4. For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, coview with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
5. Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
6. Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
7. Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation. Ask your pediatrician for help if needed.
8. Monitor children’s media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together, and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
9. Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.
10. No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
The AAP suggests that parents should ensure screen media use never takes the places of “adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health.”
Parent Use of Media
Finally the topic that most parents want to avoid when discussing children’s screen time; their own screen time. The AAP found that Parents’ background television use distracts from parents from child interactions and child play.
Heavy parent use of mobile devices was associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions between parents and their children and may be associated with more parent-child conflict.
Because your media use as a parent is a strong predictor of child media habits, reducing your media use can help enhance interactions between you and your child, so therefore this should be an important area of behaviour change that you address when using this screen time guide to tackle family screen time.
How to Begin to Reduce Screen Time
So where to from here? Go slow. Read through the screen time guide and tackle one thing at a time. It will take time to change habits, and it’s important for you as parents to lead by example. Some strategies to help you reduce screen time are:
- Unplugged bedrooms, where TV’s computers or devices aren’t allowed.
- Unplugged mealtimes, where families sit and talk to each.
- Screen time schedules, which include no screen time in the hour before bed.
- Encouraging other activities like reading, board games, or outdoor activities.
- Talking to older children about smart choices with regard to TV, media and the advertising on it.
From the AAP:
- Media and Young Minds – focuses on infants, toddlers and pre-school children
- Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents – recommendations for children ages 5 to 18
- Children, Adolescents and Digital Media – review of the scientific literature to support both policies
- Create your Family Media Plan