Kids Need Less Screen Time, Says American Academy of Pediatrics

CC BY 2.0. Petras Gagilas

In its revised media guidelines, the AAP sends a clear message that young children should get off their devices and get outside.

If you thought it was challenging to limit your preschooler’s amount of screen time to two hours per day, now it’s just got a lot harder. The American Academy of Pediatrics has revised its media guidelines for young children.

  • Babies 18 months of age and under should have zero screen time.
  • Children 18 months to 5 years should watch no more than one hour, accompanied by a parent at all times.
  • There is no precise recommendation for school-aged children, but the AAP says “the idea is to balance media use with other healthy behaviors.”
  • What kids are watching matters, too:
    “It’s critically important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS. Parents of young children should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing.”

    This is a shift away from the AAP’s previous recommendation that children over 2 years of age not watch more than two hours of screen time daily. The fact that the organization has chosen to cut this amount in half is significant.

    From the AAP’s media release last week:

    “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. What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.”

    Unfortunately, the nature of most media use among American families is to distract and occupy kids, giving parents time and space to accomplish other tasks (or waste time on their own devices). A parent is not likely inclined to sit down and watch with a child because that defeats the purpose of handing over a screen. Screens are even used to comfort children, too -- a disturbing trend when kids really just need a reassuring snuggle.

    An article in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Banning tablets is best for children,” points out how little research has been on the effects of smartphones and tablets in children’s development. We know that too much television is bad, but these other new technologies haven’t been around long enough for us to see long-term results; experts do concur, however, that excessive passive media consumption is never a good thing.

    The best ways to offset the negative effects are to watch with kids (experts call this “structured joint attention”), to select programs wisely (educational apps and interactive video games are preferable than shows), to model self-restraint when it comes to using devices, and to take seriously the AAP’s recommendations for limiting time spent.