Safe Screen Time for Kids?

screen time for kidsFor years I’ve been telling parents the advice we pediatricians were taught about screen time. No screens until age 2 and no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. We’ve all heard this advice, but is this realistic in today’s technological age?

According to CNN Parents, more than 30% of kids are using mobile devices while they are still in diapers. The recommendation to wait until 2 years of age to watch TV was made in 1999 before the first tablets and all the apps aimed at children were even invented. The Pew Research Center found that 24% of teens are “going online almost constantly.”

So the question is: are the rules changing?

The AAP is doing its homework in researching new policy recommendations, which will come out in the fall of 2016. I think this is great because I struggle with these issues when parenting my own kids. Is it really that bad to binge watch several episodes of Reign with my family? We’re learning about history and spending what feels like quality time together. How about my son spending a few hours a night on Logic Pro X composing songs? What about toddlers dancing with Mom or Dad to their favorite Disney movies, or playing interactive games on their tablet?

I think while the AAP is contemplating new rules, we can use our knowledge of child development and successful parent-child bonding to make a few decisions. Most people agree that “tech free zones” are a good idea. For example, no phones at the family dinner table or tablets in the bedroom at night.

We should also be looking at the interactive content of technology where toddlers are concerned. We don’t want to plop our children down in front of cartoons all day, but watching an educational show as a family could be acceptable. Common Sense Media can be a helpful resource in determining which programs fit into this category. The key is doing it together–talking about what you’re seeing and learning.

So let’s be realistic about how new technology is affecting our world and come up with guidelines that are easier to follow and make more sense for today’s kids. It all boils down to balance.

Are the new rules going to say it’s okay to play Minecraft for 10 hours a day? I doubt it. But we might find that gaming with friends for a few hours can be an appropriate social outlet. And playing alphabet games or art programs on an iPad with your toddler is likely okay too.

I’ll be interested to hear the new guidelines because I trust the American Academy of Pediatrics to put a lot of thought and research into their recommendation. In the meantime, I will counsel my patients and their families to use their best judgement because that’s what I’ll be doing with my kids.

About Debra Berry

Dr. Debra Berry is a board-certified pediatrician in Lone Tree, Colorado providing comprehensive pediatric care at Lone Tree Pediatrics. Her primary goal as a physician is to help each of her patients live a healthy life and grow into a happy productive adult.