American Academy of Pediatrics gets rid of two-hour limit to screen time in new policy

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Too much screen time can take its toll.
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Ben Villalpando got his first cellphone when he was 11.

Parents, listen up. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ media use policy just got a little easier to understand and probably a little easier to actually do.

The biggest change is the amount of recommended time kids can use media. Before, the Academy recommended less than two hours a day of screen use of any kind and no screen use before age 2.

The new policy, which was released on Friday at the academy’s national conference recognizes that there’s a difference between using a computer, tablet or smartphone to do homework and playing mindless games on a smartphone. And it also recognizes that there is a difference between toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged kids.

Here are the recommendations:

  • Children younger than 18 months of age: Avoid the use of any screen media except video chatting (with grandparents, for example).
  • Children ages 18 months to 24 months: Introduce high-quality programs or apps, but do it with your children to create a dialog about what they are seeing and how it relates to the world around them.
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programs that you view with your children.
  • Children ages six and older, place consistent limits on time spent using media, the types of media and make sure that the use of media does not take the place of sleeping, exercise and other healthy behaviors.
  • Designate media-free times together such as during dinner or while driving as well as media-free locations at home such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing conversations about what it means to be a good citizen and be safe online and offline.

The Academy recommends going to CommonSenseMedia.org and SesameStreetWorkshop.org to find recommendations for good use of screens.

The new policy does not set a limit for those ages 6 years on up, but recognizes that sleep and exercise should be the priority. To help parents do that, the Academy has launched the HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan. There you can find a calculator to determine the amount of screen time your child could have. It automatically sets the amount of sleep your child needs based on age and the hour of exercise your child needs. Then you can add time for school, showering, meals, homework, chores, afterschool activities, reading, family time and other activities. My teenagers’ screen time quickly shrank to an hour and a half a day.

You can also create your family media plan, which allows you to set the screen-free zones (their bedrooms and the dinner table) and the time at which screens have to be turned into their parents (an hour before bed is recommended). It also sets the rules: will you only use screens together? Or if they can use it alone, are there sites or apps they are not allowed to us?

It also talks about the importance of decreasing screen time and how you can accomplish this: sleeping more, doing hobbies, reading, being with friends, doing sports or anything else you want to add.

The rest of the plan talks about being good media members, being a good digital citizen and being safe. Recommended rules already are suggested, but you can also add your own rules.

The final step is how your child is going to guarantee that he or she gets enough sleep and exercise.

While there’s one family plan, you can set different limits and rules for each kid. At the end of making this plan, you can print it out and put it on your refrigerator. And for those really glued-to-their screen kids, you can send them the screen shot.

Dr. Ari Brown of 411 Pediatrics.

Dr. Ari Brown of 411 Pediatrics.

Dr. Ari Brown, of 411 Pediatrics and the book “Baby 411,” was in San Francisco at the Academy’s conference, where she listened to a panel about the new recommendations.

What the policy does, she says, “is remove the time as the variable that you’re focusing on. It’s not just the time, it’s what your child is doing with their media use. That’s what we’re trying to get parents to be more aware of.”

It also prioritizes sleep and exercise as well as interaction with real people.

The new policy, Brown says, is going to be easier for parents because it’s personalized. “What we were offering as far as advice was way too simplistic,” she says. Also simply saying, “no more than two hours a day of any and all screen time” had parents throwing up their hands and giving up. This puts value in offline activities such as family time, dinner time and social interaction, but allows for screen time after all the things you value as a family are done, Brown says.

The key to all of this is setting important limits: screen-free times to be a family and screen-free bedrooms. Many studies have concluded that family dinner time as well as not going to bed with a screen make a big difference on kids’ behavior. Family dinner time is all about making a kid feel valued and connected. The no-phone in the bedroom is all about sleep. The light from the phone or tablet makes falling asleep difficult, and you cannot control what time your child’s friends decide to start texting them at night. (My kids regularly get texts and social media messages from their friends at midnight, 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. If their phones lived in their rooms, our kids could be up all night. )

As far as that excuse that the phone is their alarm clock, Brown has this simple advice: “You can buy an alarm clock,” she says. “The phone doesn’t have to be your alarm clock and your phone can recharge downstairs in the kitchen.”

Being a parent to a child who is more advanced in technology than you can be hard, but this new policy makes it easier. “You don’t have to know the difference between trending and following,” Brown says. “You just have to have house rules for media use.”

And those rules apply to you, too, parents. Your children are watching when you don’t prioritize relationships and bring the phone to the dinner table or use it while driving.

For all kids, we need to remember that there is value in boredom. “It makes them problem solve and create and learn self-regulation,” Brown says.

Brown reminds of studies of young kids who have had a lot of access to screens. They have poor language skills and poor executive function, she says.

“If they have to use a screen to entertain their mind or to calm down, they are missing out on important growth opportunities.”

That means that you don’t hand them a phone or a tablet each time they seem bored or are having a tantrum. “We value unplugged play,” she says. “Unplugged play allows them to create and learn. We value that there are talk times that need to happen with the child and we know that when a screen is on, the parent is talking less to a child.”

And if you have that kid who has had a lot of screen time, this is your wake-up call to change that. “Being a parent is not a popular job,” Brown says. “You’re not your child’s friend. They won’t always love what you do, but they will always love you. You do have to set limits for your child, whether it’s media or sleep or what they eat.”

She challenges parents to take a family screen-free holiday for a day or weekend. It’s a scary, daunting task, but then families often realize how much more fun they have together.

Find more articles about screen time:

Kids attached to their screens

Mentor not monitor kids’ screen use

Kids addicted to screens

Monitor kids’ screen use

Set up a screen time contract


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