ADHD News & Research

AAP: Parents Should Make Screen Time Interactive — Or Cut Back

New recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics provide new guidance for screen time in our always-connected world.

March 17, 2017

New media usage guidelines recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) emphasize parental interaction and educational content over strict time limits — at least for children 2 years of age and older.

The guidelines, entitled “Media and Young Minds,” recommend no screens for children under the age of 18 months — a continuation of established AAP recommendations that caution against the negative effects of screens on infants’ developing brains. Between the ages of 2 and 5, a child should be exposed to no more than one hour of screen time each day, the guidelines say, but programming quality is paramount to quantity.

The guidelines advise parents to avoid online videos and games that lack educational value, and instead to use two-way video chatting, high-quality television shows like “Sesame Street,” and educational games (particularly those backed by scientific research). Also, avoid shows with advertisements, as children under 5 don’t have the emotional or cognitive maturity to separate fact from fiction in ads. The AAP does not place any screen time limits on children ages 6 and older; however, parents should make sure screen time doesn’t replace sleep, exercise, or creative non-screen play.

The guidelines go on to say that children of any age benefit most when a parent acts as a “media mentor” — meaning parents should use media with their child as much as possible, and always be aware of what their child is doing online. For younger kids, this can mean talking about an episode of “Sesame Street” after it finishes — asking children to discuss their favorite part or character, for instance. For older children, this often means testing out apps first, discussing online safety (including sexting and cyberbullying), and modeling healthy media habits.

“Young children can tell when their parents’ heads are always in their cells,” said Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, lead author of the report and assistant professor at UCLA. When parents are constantly distracted by their phones, she added, it can make children less likely to follow rules around screen time — or at the very least, make “kids’ levels of irritable behavior worse.”

“Media and Young Minds” was released in November 2016, one year after the AAP held a “Growing Up Digital” conference, focusing on teen’s media use in our changing world. At the conference, the AAP acknowledged that their prior recommendation — that parents avoid screen time entirely for children under 2, and keep children over 2 to under two hours a day — was unrealistic in the modern media climate.

“It doesn’t make sense to make a blanket statement [of two hours] of screen time anymore,” said Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, lead author of the most recent report and assistant professor at UCLA. “For some children, two hours may be too much.” The new guidelines were designed to confront this disparity — though the Academy acknowledges that there will always be room for improvement.

“Even though the media landscape is constantly changing, some of the same parenting rules apply,” said Chassiakos in a press release. “Parents play an important role in helping children and teens navigate the media environment, just as they help them learn how to behave off-line.”