As tablets, smartphones, laptops and other devices become more ubiquitous, pediatricians are telling parents to help their children have a "healthy media diet."
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidelines today that focus on how much screen time is appropriate for infants, toddlers and children of pre-school age.
“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,” Dr. Jenny Radesky, lead author of the AAP policy recommendations, said in a statement.
Among the recommendations: strictly limiting screen time for children under the age of 18 months and allowing toddlers to watch some highly educational programs like "Sesame Street." When children are between the ages of two to five, the AAP recommends no more than one hour of TV per day.
Families with children over the age of five are encouraged to develop a "family media use plan" to help facilitate media-free time, active lifestyles and healthy sleeping patterns. The AAP has released a new online tool focused on helping families come up with their own media plan, available here.
“Parents play an important role in helping children and teens navigate media, which can have both positive and negative effects,” Dr. Megan Moreno, lead author of the policy statement on media use in school-aged children and teens, said in statement released by the AAP. “Parents can set expectations and boundaries to make sure their children’s media experience is a positive one. The key is mindful use of media within a family.”
Carolyn Landis, child psychologist at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, said that the guidelines are a good first step, but the medical community also needs to help parents implement these recommendations.
"When I think about the guidelines...it's very difficult for parents to follow them," said Landis. "What we have to come up with is not just the guidelines but how can we support parents?"
Landis said parents often know they should limit screen time for children, especially infants and toddlers. However, it can be difficult to keep a "healthy" media plan in mind when a parent is dealing with a hectic household and trying keep a child occupied, she noted.
The AAP warns that excessive time spent in front of the computer, television and other devices can put children at increased risk for obesity, disruptive sleep and "problematic internet use," where a child might withdraw from "real-life" relationships. The AAP also warned that cyberbullying remains a concern as teens and adolescents increasingly rely on social media to communicate.
Some children also get in the habit of going to sleep with the television on, which can contribute to restless sleep or insomnia.
"That sets up the habit [where] they are exposed to the light and they might stay up later," Landis said.
Landis has some some basic advice for parents: get involved and engage with your children. Additionally, she recommends setting up active playdates at a bowling alley, rock climbing wall or another location where a child will be inclined to put down the phone.
"Sometimes the kids get together and all they do is sit and look at their phones," she said.