Screen Time: The Kids May Be All Right

Screen time may not be so bad for kids, pediatricians say


For past generations of children, engaging in “screen time” meant watching TV. But in a digital age where kids socialize, learn and work on computers, it may be time to reassess what healthy screen time means.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently decided to drop the strict, time-based guidelines it had previously recommended for kids in favor of a more modern approach that emphasizes quality of screen time versus quantity.

In the past, some researchers have expressed concern that too much screen time could harm children's cognitive development.

The AAP’s 2011 policy suggested that parents limit their kids’ screen time to two hours per day and suggested that children younger than 2 avoid screen time altogether. However, with the advent of household iPads and similar tech, pediatricians are now saying that this policy is dated, and that how bad or good screen time is for kids depends on what screen activities they’re engaging in.

“In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete," wrote guideline author Ari Brown, MD, FAAP, an AAP spokeswoman, and colleagues. "The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle.”

Though the AAP is still writing the official guidelines for media use for children, it stresses a few key points in its pre-guidelines release. It says that "media is just another environment," meaning that children still partake in the same behaviors as they used to — now virtually. For kids, engagement with media can be positive or negative.

The AAP also reminds caretakers that "parenting has not changed," and "co-engagement counts," suggesting that parents must set rules in both real and virtual environments, play with their children and set limits. The AAP suggests that parents play a video game with their kids or co-view media with infants and toddlers.

The AAP also encourages parents to create “tech-free zones” where electronics are not permitted, such as at mealtimes and in children’s bedrooms at bedtime. Pediatricians say that setting boundaries and time limits, as well as encouraging unplugged playtime, will help children develop healthy relationships and social skills.