These days, we’re surrounded by so much media throughout the day that it’s just an accepted part of day-to-day life. But for parents, exposing their child to digital media is a delicate balance. Restricting them from it entirely is impractical, and it’s actually not always the right choice, but giving them free reign throughout the internet can have a variety of negative repercussions. Our board-certified pediatricians at Children’s Wellness Center and the American Academy of Pediatrics have a variety of recommendations to help you navigate the challenges of media and screen time for your children.
Should my goal be to keep my kids away from media as much as possible?
Many parents assume that the best policy is as little screen time as possible. But in reality, for children who are over two years old, media can provide many opportunities for your child to learn and even to bond with you. In truth, your goal should be to plan your child’s use of media so that it is done in a productive way and so that it does not interfere with sleep, childhood exercise, social interaction, or other important activities.
How much screen time is okay for my child?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children less than 18 months old do not use electronics other than video-chatting with long-distance family members. Between 18 and 24 months, if children are exposed to media at all, it should be high-quality and parents should watch with their children. For children ages 2-5, up to one hour of screen time per day can be permitted as long as it is high-quality programming that is watched with a parent. When children reach age 6, they may be able to be more independent with their media use, but you should still set very specific time limits and content rules for them.
How do I begin establishing rules for my children’s use of digital media?
There is certainly a lot to think about in terms of setting rules for your kids. A perfect way to get started is to use the AAP’s Family Media Plan tool. This helpful site guides you through the many types of rules to consider: time limits, media-free rooms, media-free times, online conduct, types of media permitted, etc. Setting media guidelines for your family should also involve detailed discussions of how to maintain privacy and safety online, and organizations like Savvy Cyber Kids are great resources for parents.
Is extra screen time okay if it’s spent using educational content?
While it’s great that you want to give your child as many educational opportunities as possible, time spent with education games and TV shows is still screen time, so it’s still taking away time they could be using for real-world educational experiences as well as physical exercise. There are also a few things to keep in mind regarding educational content. First, not every app, game, or video that is labeled as “educational” truly is, so you should try using the media first to check it out and make sure that it is productive and age-appropriate, that it falls in line with your personal values, and that it is not overloaded with distracting “bells and whistles.” Second, remember that while these programs may give a different perspective or an extra learning opportunity, they do not replace homework. So, in short, do not be too quick to trust educational content, and make sure that they still adhere to your child’s balance between screen time and other necessary activities.
How do I know if my child is spending too much time with digital media?
Too much screen time can have a number of unwanted effects. It can increase the risk of childhood obesity, reduce the amount and quality of sleep, limit the development of social skills, encourage children to dismiss homework or rush it and complete it poorly, and even promote aggression if the screen time is spent viewing violent content. If you notice that your child is beginning to struggle with any of these issues, reducing screen time and/or monitoring their media use more closely may be a good starting point.
Is it okay to use media as a way to keep my child calm?
It’s a good idea for any parent to have a number of tricks up their sleeve for calming their child in a potentially anxious situation. But it’s important not to rely on media as your only tool for doing this.
Are there specific times when I shouldn’t let my child use media at all?
The AAP does suggest establishing certain “media-free times” and “media-free rooms.” For instance, you may want to prohibit the use of digital media in the dining room or kitchen so you can enjoy dinners as a family, and in your children’s bedrooms so it doesn’t disturb their healthy sleep. You can also establish a rule that all cell phones, tablets, portable gaming devices, and other electronics need to charge in the parent’s bedroom each night, so that you know when they’re put away for the evening. And remember, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not having a television in a child’s bedroom.
How do I know the maturity level of the movies and TV shows my child is watching?
It’s a good idea to watch media along with your child so that you can know that it is appropriate and, if necessary, answer any moral questions it raises for your child. However, you can also use the show or movie’s rating as a guide. You can learn more about these ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America and the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. Common Sense Media is another helpful organization. In addition to staying up-to-date on what your child is watching or using, you should be sure to use the parent control settings on your electronics themselves (tablets, phones, etc.) as well as your digital accounts (like your cable provider, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and more).
As a parent, your goal is to keep your child safe and healthy, and to prepare them for a happy and successful adulthood. Depending on how it is used, digital media can either bring you closer or farther from that goal. The key is planning ahead, finding balance, and keeping open lines of communication with your children at all ages. For more information about keeping your child healthy, visit the Children’s Wellness Center patient portal to schedule a well child appointment or simply give us a call for additional guidance. Or, for more health and safety tips, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.