ADHD News & Research

AAP: More Screen Time for Children Is OK, Mostly

How much TV or video-game play is OK? The rules of thumb are changing, right alongside the technology. The AAP now says more is OK, but with a big caveat: Quality matters, and parent involvement matters more.

October 7, 2015

Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) originally set its screen time guidelines — no TV, movies, or video games for children younger than two, and no more than two hours a day for older kids — the world has changed.

Statistics from Common Sense Media show that more than 30 percent of children in the United States play with mobile devices while still in diapers. According to Pew Research Center, nearly 75 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have smartphones they use “almost constantly.”

The AAP acknowledges that its current recommendation is out of sync with current media use, and recently convened the Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium to investigate the impact of ever-present screens on this new generation of “digital natives” exposed to the internet from infancy.

In a series of research-based panels, it found that screen time used properly can facilitate learning and socialization, and social media use is associated with both positives and negatives. To maintain a healthy relationship with screen time, the AAP now recommends:

> Parents should be involved in their children’s digital (and non-digital, obviously) lives. They should play with them, co-view with young children, know who their friends are, and set limits — just like they do with in-person interactions. Modeling how (and how often) to use technology is important as well.

> Try to choose media that mirrors live interactions, or two-way conversations. Neuroscience research shows that young children, especially those under the age of two, learn the most from “talk time.” Watching television or videos on iPads does not help infants and young toddlers learn language. Video chatting with a parent who is traveling is more beneficial.

> Educational media created for children can be beneficial. Apps, games, and programs can help children age 2 and older learn by working toward rewards, experiencing failure, experimenting with solutions, and building skills. Parents can evaluate the educational quality of media using sites like Common Sense Media. Seek out products that demonstrate cultural diversity.

> It’s OK for teens to be online. Having relationships online and in social media is a normal part of teens’ identity formation, and fosters independence. Digital gaming can improve mood, reduce stress, and promote creation of social skills like cooperation, support, and helping others.

> Establish screen-free time. Like any activity, technology should have a time and a place. It’s important for very young children to have unstructured playtime, and to have zones where screens aren’t allowed — like bedrooms or the dinner table. Think about what kids are giving up to use screens, and strive for balance.

> Give guidance. Kids will make mistakes, and post something inappropriate. Parents need to be there to help them learn appropriate behavior and etiquette online, just like they do in the real world.

The AAP has established the Children’s Digital Media Alliance (CDMA) to expand on the symposium and complete additional research. It plans to release updated recommendations at its 2016 National Conference and Exhibition. In the meantime, it recommends that pediatricians work with parents to assess the quantity and quality of screen time use, and recommend parameters for healthy use. There is potential for overuse. The AAP hopes that educators will teach media literacy to students, and guide children to engage safely.