Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) held a symposium on digital screen time to offer practical advice to parents and teachers. According to the AAP, infants 18 months and younger should not be exposed to screens at all. Even if a baby isn’t directly looking at the screen – for example, if the mother is breastfeeding and on her phone or in front of the television – the noise and activity can distress and overstimulate the child. Screen time can also cause a disconnect between infants and parents.
The more face-to-face interaction a baby has with its mother and other adults, the better it is for brain development.
Children 2 to 5 years old should be limited to 1 hour of educational screen time per day. Programming is best if it does not involve advertisements or animation, as young children have a difficult time distinguishing between real and imaginary characters.
The AAP recommends involving children in family movie nights and in screen time with friends or relatives. After the movie and conversations end, parents can supplement learning by discussing what happened and what was said. In my own classroom, I try to limit screen time to 10 minutes, which is around 3 short videos per school day.
For children over 6, parents and teachers need to set and model healthy boundaries. Many aspects of digital media are positive and necessary in today’s world; media tools can be interactive, foster communication, engage kids who need visual learning techniques, and allow many people to create and collaborate.
However, parents have to talk to kids about the dangers of cyberbullying, sexting, and online predators. Parents should be conscious of age-appropriate programs, games, and platforms that their children are watching or using.
The AAP also recommends that families designate media-free time together, such as dinner and driving, and media-free spaces, such as bedrooms.
Parents are children’s main role models, so it is important that they shut down devices at night.
Children can tell when their parents are constantly working or interacting with media, and if they sense they are being neglected, it is likely to lead to behavioral issues. When you limit screen time, you give children more time to imagine, to exercise, to create relationships, and to form bonds with you.
For more information, check out Common Sense Media, The Parents Choice Foundation, and the Family Media Plan tool on healthychildren.org.