Pediatricians Take Surprising Stand on Kids and Screens

Two teenagers on cellphones

At long last, the American Academy of Pediatrics has revised its ideas for how kids should interact with screens. There are some surprises, especially that the guidelines cover much more than media.

Babies and little, little kids are still not supposed to watch any screen-based content, with one exception: video-chatting—which is truly the next best thing to being there with grandma. During such interactions, adult loved ones usually hover nearby, which is something else the AAP recommends: parents should “co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.”

Kids ages two through five are supposed to be limited to only an hour of high-quality media per day. Parents are again urged to watch along with them.

The biggest surprise in the new guidelines is that there is no longer a time limit for kids ages six and older. Instead, parents should “place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health”—a key to durability, for sure.boys-and-bales

Yet, I wondered why the nation’s pediatricians would do away with a stated limit. “We used to talk about a 2 hour limit for entertainment media, mostly passive TV viewing, to limit the risks of issues such as obesity,” Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, MD FAAP, who wrote the technical report behind the guidelines, told me in an email. “But more recent research has shown that, depending on age and activity level of media use, even as little as one to one-and-a-half hours of screen time can increase the risk of obesity for some children.”

So what they’re saying is that limiting screen time to even less than two hours a day is the ideal, as far as health and wellness are concerned.

I place a lot of faith in designers to help us solve our problems. In How To Be a Durable Human, I define durable human design as “the making and doing of things that promote and advance one’s ability to be an effective, contributing human in a complex and increasingly digital world.” Lo and behold, along with the new guidelines, the AAP has a new durable human design to help families set their own priorities.AAP media plannerThe Online Media Plan tool includes a slick Media Time Calculator that, if used honestly, does not leave much time for screen-based entertainment. “The goal is to give parents, and everybody really, a visual of how a child’s day maps out so we can really understand what affects the balance in their lives and what you need to do to have a balanced lifestyle,” says Corinn Cross, MD, FAPP, the doctor who came up with the calculator idea.

See how the Media Time Calculator works in my 3-minute demo:

Since I’ve been going around the country hawking the placement of a gadget basket out of reach of the dinner table and that kids should use alarm clocks to wake up instead of their phones, it warmed my heart to see these recommendations: “Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.”

With the new guidelines and Media Planner, parents finally get some backup as they try to sensibly incorporate screen-based media into their children’s lives. The Media Time Calculator is a boon for parents because, in the words of Dr. Cross, “it helps you know where your priorities are.”

If you want a little more help in setting those priorities, check out this Durable Human cheat sheet.

For a whole book of insight on living wisely with technology, read How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design.

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