How much time should kids spend staring at screens? New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) aim to help you decide what's healthy for your kid, and there's even an online Family Media Planner to guide you.
"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," said lead author Jenny Radesky in a statement.
Screen-time is low priority in the AAP's view. Parents should prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers, but can introduce small amounts of media from around 18 months—a younger age than AAP previously recommended. However, plonking the brats in front of YouTube on an iPad isn't good enough. The programming needs to be of high quality—Sesame Street is acceptable, for example. And good quality TV is essential for another reason too—the AAP recommends that parents sit and watch with their kids to help explain what's happening, so you'll want something that won't drive you crazy.
On the other hand, if my brother's kids are anything to go by, the minute their attention is caught by the TV, all adult input is ignored.
The recommendations are age-specific and completely sensible, aiming to balance out screen-time with other activities, both physical, and socially interactive. Like anything else, moderation is key. Kids under 18 months should be kept away from screens, except for video-calls. Then, for the next half year, you can start showing them some shows.
Between two and five years, kids should be limited to just an hour of screen use per day, still with parental inclusion. You are not, says the AAP, allowed to use the TV, DVD player, or iPad as a babysitter so you can enjoy a scant moment to yourself.
If you manage to make it through the first six years of your child's life in this manner, there's good news. Little Johnny or Janey can finally watch alone, as long as you "make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health."
The recommendations are a little heavy-handed, and perhaps out of touch with the practicalities of parenting, but the general gist of the report seems good. I laughed out loud at this part though, as will you if you have kids or know people with kids:
Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
Media-free meals are fine, but try getting a teen to put down their smartphone in the car or the bedroom and you'll end up with a Meadow Soprano situation on your hands.