New Guidelines for Children and Media

About two weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a new policy statement on young children’s media use, including both the potential educational benefits and health concerns for children aged five years and younger. Previously, the AAP advocated for no screen time for children under the age of two, but based on some new research showing that toddlers can learn from interactive technology, the AAP revised their conclusions and made several important recommendations for parents:

  • Continue to engage in hands-on, unstructured play with your child. This is the AAP’s way of saying, “We’re about to loosen our guidelines for children’s media use, but that doesn’t mean you should substitute hands-on learning with media.” A separate AAP report describes research that shows exploration, puzzle play and parent-child interaction can benefit children’s social, emotional and cognitive development, so keep doing this.
  • For children younger than 18-months, discourage media use other than video chat. There is a lot of research showing that children between 12- and 18-months learn better from live interaction compared to video, also known as the video-deficit effect. However, in the past few years research has emerged suggesting toddlers can learn from some interactive media. For example, 24-month olds can learn new words from a Skye interaction with an adult. Also, parents that I’ve talked to were letting their toddlers video chat anyway, and since there is no evidence that video chat is bad for children, this is really a way of making parents feel less guilty for something they were already doing.
  • For children 18- to 24-months, parents who want to introduce media should do so IF the media is high quality and if parents and children use the media together. We know that children can learn STEM concepts, literacy and social-emotional skills from high quality educational television, such as Sesame Street and PBS programming. We also know that co-viewing and co-use – when parents watch or use media with their children – helps children understand the content they are consuming. For example, with e-books, children benefit when parents elaborate on the narrative and ask children questions about the story, as long as the features of the e-book aren’t distracting. Therefore, parents can expose their 18- to 24-month olds to high quality media if they are co-viewing with them, but parents should avoid letting children in this age range use media alone.
  • For children older than 2-years, limit media use to an hour per day and use with your child when possible to increase learning and interaction. Despite the educational benefits of media, limiting media use to an hour per day helps remind parents that their children should be engaging in other types of educational activities, like pretend play, block play and playing with other children. Although older children are better able to understand television and digital games, restricting children’s use is a good way to make sure they are engaging in other beneficial, hands-on activities.
  • No screens during meal times and an hour before bed. Considering children’s health, research shows that having a media device present during mealtime is associated with less parent-child interaction. Moreover, the blue light emitted from screens may lead to shorter sleep durations for children when screens are used at night before bed. One good practice is to not allow media in the bedroom or at the kitchen table during meals.
  • Educate yourself and seek out resources. There are lots of resources available to parents on how to engage with their children and media in healthy ways. Parents can develop a Family Media Use Plan, find high-quality television shows and apps and can educate themselves on early child development. One good resource is org, which is an organization that evaluates and reviews media, so that parents and educators know what media is age appropriate, how to engage with children around media, and which programs and games have been shown to have educational benefits. You can also refer to this blog or visit our center’s website to learn more about new research on children and media.

These new guidelines are important because pediatricians are the first practitioners who can inform parents on healthy media behavior for their infants in children. But of course, research on touch screens and media is rapidly emerging, so it’s important to keep in mind that these recommendations may change, either to become more stringent or more lax. One of my goals with this blog is to keep parents and educators up-to-date on the latest research, so I encourage you to use this as a source of information about children and healthy media habits.

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